The Building of the Chromatic 'Hyperbass' Flute (32 feet of Flute)
(Translation adjustment: P. Sheridan)
Development of Low Flute Design
The last few decades has seen the development of low flutes in full pace. Initially, these instruments lacked a good key (flap) system, which was an obstacle for making flutes of more than one arm's length. With the invention of the revolutionary Theobald Böhm key system this problem has been, however, solved. But whereas saxophones and manifold builders succeeded with very large instruments, the weight of the instrumental flute was overbearing. A not unimportant reason was the rather negative observations of Philip Bate in his book 'The Flute' concerning the flute of the Italian Albisi which were quite true. This flute made at the beginning of twentieth century was listed as the first flute larger than bass flute. Bate mentions that this flute would take large amounts of air and produce little sound, which was no encouragement for other builders to try taking the process any further. A copy of the 'Albisiphone' is in the Bate collection, Oxford.1 Now the contrabass flute has started to become popular, and has developed a respected position between the other wind instruments. Well established names of low flute builders from the beginning of the 20th century include Rosen in France, Jäger in Germany and Emerson in the United States.
(Jelle Hogenhuis assembling headjoint on hyperbass flute)
Large Flute Blowers
The current generation of 'large flute blowers' (lage-fluit-bouwers) are inspired by the Japanese Kotato and Fukushima, and of course our own Eva Kingma. The high quality of these instruments has contributed to an improved image of the contrabass flute (and all low flutes in general). It was Kotato who was the first to design the subcontrabassflute, which played three octaves lower than C-flute. Unfortunately the price of these instruments is still rather expensive for the average player. With the arrival of these subcontrabasflute's a new range down to 32 Hz has become possible. In 1990, I myself have developed a cheap alternative: a plastic flute with very considerable performances opportunities. I personally find it not a particularly 'musical' instrument. If I am in my studio and want to play a nice tune, then I do not choose the subcontra. But there are other players who think completely different! Virtuoso player Peter Sheridan is someone who has turned the playing (and performance) of the low flutes into his specialty. This flutist with an Irish and American passport lives at present in Australia and travels the world with a respectable weight of flutes (up to 40-50 kilos)
Sizing the Pipe
Sheridan ordered a subcontrabasflute from me in 2009. His thoughts and dreams were turned to even lower depths when he asked me to develop an instrument that played an octave lower. If no other one has the the capacity for the musical possibilities of the instrument, he would. Inspired by the very low instrument of the Italian Fabricciani, Sheridan put forward the idea of the development to me. This new instrument would have to be twice as long as the subcontrabass flute. Fabricciani's flute however has no key system; the tone holes can be closed alternatively by a hand gesture with latex gloves. The task for me now was to build an instrument with a length of almost 10 metres (32 feet) complete with a chromatic Böhm-key system. The lowest frequency, the D under the lowest A, of the piano, lies then well under the spectrum border of 18 Hz. After the experiences with the subcontrabass developments, the key movement was not the most difficult problem; selecting a workable drilling (or diameter) was much more cumbersome.
On first experimentation, I failed with a tube diameter of 75 mm (see image below) Not that I expected immediate results, but the partials of the pipe as well as the turnings did not work correctly. It was surprising that the lowest tones sounded rather easily even at this smaller pipe size.
Octaves were however not possible; the first partial which I could isolate was a mix of the fourth and the fifth. At 90 mm diameter the success was greater which made progress much better. For this reason I decided I will build more seriously with a diameter of 125 mm! (see image below)
(Image 1: 75mm diameter) (Image 2: 125mm diameter)
At this diameter, finding the octave was possible. In fact a tube of 150 or 170 mm probably would have produced a better result, though the transport of a monster this size would have been impossible. On the other hand the advantage of the smaller bore provided a rough range of four octaves.
To simplify respectively F# and G# the octave key of E and F was introduced. The distance of the playing hand to the where the keys were concerned is sometimes as much as two metres; that is why I chose a system with brake cables to bridge this wide span! A workable solution. Other keys, such as the D#, which let through venting air, also needed a connector, and hence I chose the cables to serve this awkward mechanical challenge. Truth is, if the tube does become any larger, then I would have to devise an electric system for the solution!
(Image: Octave key with cable connector)
(Image: C and C# key )
(Image: Maker Hogenhuis assembling hyperbass flute)
What Sheridan eventually produces with the instrument will be quite interesting. It will be no 'Flight of the Bumblebee,' though it should have artistic and sonic interest to all musically involved. Sheridan has already invited composers to write for the instrument. The question is if he is satisfied with reaching a tone of 18 Hz, or in the future, or if it is possible to go an octave lower...