Contrabass Digest

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Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 20:53:50 EDT
Subject: Basso Gastrico

Occasionally one takes time out from earnest study of the minutiae of vintage
wind instruments, mouthpieces, reeds, ligatures, and mutes to ponder the fact
that nearly all human beings come with a wind instrument (well, two, but I
refer to the one on the upper floor) built in as standard equipment, useful
for talking, singing, and other things.  Like belching.

How come belches are so low-pitched?  I'm not talking about the discreet
little "urp" behind the politely-raised hand.  I'm talking about the
resounding, professional-quality BRRRRAAAAAAP, produced with open mouth and
rounded embouchure, the kind of belch that measures about 4 on the Richter
scale and inspires applause from 12-year-old boys.

Now, the low pitch of the *other* built-in human wind instrument makes sense,
because if I understand this aspect of human anatomy correctly, the human
large intestine is something like 36 feet long, longer than the longest pipe
of a 32-foot organ bass.  In theory, therefore, the right combination of diet
and determination might result in an organ bass of close to 36-foot pitch.
(It might be audible only as a rattle to most ears.  Maybe this is the famous
"Silent but Deadly.")  However, AFAIK, the lower intestine can only blow in
one direction and that is not backwards through the intake pipe, at least not
for most of us.  So belches don't come from that 36-foot pipe.

I believe the small intestine also contributes nothing to the belch.  The
upper, "Over the lips and through the gums, look out tummy, here it comes!"
portion of the gastric system can and does work in reverse, but it's quite a
lot shorter than the nether pipework, is it not?  And a string bass seems
unlikely as well, since vocal chords of the length to produce a contralto
can't magically, temporarily twang at bass pitch, can they?

Yet even a small, harmless-looking female with a nondescript contralto voice
can (if inspired by competition with her equally demented husband, and if
fueled by suitable quantities of cold Diet Dr. Pepper, which as authorities
on the mechanics of belch-production can testify, surpasses beer as a
propellant) let out a truly window-rattling, triple forte, basso profundo
belch, of such Animal House proportions and grossly extended fermata that it
has been known to cause the large male driving the car to pull over to the
curb until he stopped laughing and mopped the tears out of his eyes
sufficiently for him to see the road.  (Only couples who stay together for
more than a third of a century and who go out before dawn and spend entire
weekends breathing automobile exhaust and flea market dust are ever likely to
observe this phenomenon first-hand.   I'm not mentioning any names here, but
let's just say that my information comes from a reliable source.)  So anyway,
when a small person of the female contralto persuasion lets forth a
thunderous basso fraternity belch, where in the hell does it come from?
Enquiring minds want to know.

"The longing to be primitive is a disease of culture."
     --George Santayana, _Little Essays_

Date: Wed, 30 Jun 1999 09:56:21 -0700
From: Grant Green <>
Subject: Classical sarrusophones

The Paderewski Symphony in B minor (Polonia) is out on CD now (1998,
Hyperion Records, CDA67056), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Jerzy
Maksymiuk.  I think Francis first alerted us to the fact that this work
calls for (and was recorded with) three sarrusophones.  The liner notes
unfortunately don't say *which* three, but having listened to the CD now,
I'd guess that they include at least a bass and a contrabass.  There are
several passages where the sarrusophones are obvious, in most cases simply
playing a low chord.  I'll need to either put on headphones, or really
crank it up at home to see if they show up throughout.  Oh, and the
symphony as a whole is rather good :-)


Grant Green  

Date: Wed, 30 Jun 1999 12:43:23 -0700
From: Grant Green <>
Subject: Sarrusophone update

Along with a minor update on the sarrusophone page
(, I've added a RealAudio clip
from the recent SJWS concert that includes sarrusophone.  The clip is from
"Russian Sailor's Dance" (,
and includes the opening statement of the theme (low brass and winds in
unison and octaves), and a small part of the next strain (tuba, string
bass, and bass sarrusophone on the off beats).  I played the bass sax part
on bass sarrusophone: at sufficient volume, you can distinctly hear the
sarrusophone through the low brass.



Grant Green  

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