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Maria Ramey playing a Kotato contrabass flute
Contrabass flute

The contrabass flute (sometimes also called octobass flute) is one of the rarer members of the flute family. It is used mostly in flute ensembles. Its range is similar to that of the regular concert flute, except that it is pitched two octaves lower; the lowest performable note is two octaves below middle C (the lowest C on the cello). Many contrabass flutes in C are also equipped with a low B, (in the same manner as many modern standard sized flutes are.) Contrabass flutes are only available from select flute makers.

Sometimes referred to as the "gentle giant" of the flute family, the contrabass retains the facility for trills and flautando, as found elsewhere in the flute world. Ease of arpeggiation is moderate and thus equivalent to the rest of the flute family. The upper registers (middle C and above) lack the strength of tone found in its cousins; the strongest register is arguably that between G1 and G2. Though the upper register can lack strength, its sensitivity and lyricism can be used to great effect; and a good instrument can readily reach the high A (above middle C). The 'haunting' low register (below G1) has similar qualities to the bassoon, and the low B (three octaves below middle C) can carry well with an experienced performer.

The contrabass flute requires much greater force of breath to produce sound than most other wind instruments, and composers who write for this instrument might consider more frequent breaks in phrasing than one would when writing for smaller flutes. The contribution that the addition of the contrabass flute has made to the composition of flute choirs is enormous, offering at last the grounding of a true and deep bass sound. A wider, slower air stream is needed to produce a solid tone.

Contemporary musicians using the contrabass flute include Madeleine Bischof, Pierre-Yves Artaud, Matthias Ziegler, Stefan Keller, Ned McGowan, Peter Sheridan and Vinny Golia who also plays all the other sizes of flute, and has recorded with it on the CD Music for Like Instruments: The Flutes, in a quartet with three other flutists.

The contrabass flute in C produced by the Japanese firm of Kotato & Fukushima sells for US$20,000[1], and that made by Eva Kingma sells for US$16,000. Christian Jäger from Munich has also designed and constructed a contrabass flute.

Contrabass flutes have also been made from PVC pipe, by the Dutch flute maker Jelle Hogenhuis. It is reported that while it might be thought that an instrument made from PVC would be inferior, the PVC allows for a louder instrument if the wall thickness is kept small. PVC also permits more rough treatment, as the plastic instrument can be bumped without denting. Site

New solo and chamber music is being composed almost everyday for this instrument, and performer Peter Sheridan has commissioned numerous works from composers around the world, including: Alex Shapiro, Patrick Neher, Vinny Golia, Bruce Lawrence, Adrienne Albert, and Sheridon Stokes. In April 2008 a concerto for contrabass flute and chamber orchestra by Ned McGowan was premiered in Carnegie Hall. Other composers who have written for the Contrabass flute are: Wil Offermans, Robert Dick, Thomas Seelig, and Gunter Steinke.

Variations

Additionally instrument maker Eva Kingma produces two other flutes pitched below the bass flute. One is a "contrabass flute in G," pitched a fourth below the bass flute and an octave lower than the alto flute; thus, this is technically, a contra-alto flute. The other instrument is a "sub contrabass flute in G" pitched one octave below the contra alto flute, or two octaves below the alto flute in G. Kotato & Fukushima also produce a "sub contrabass flute in C", a large, deep instrument pitched a full octave below the contrabass flute in C.

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