Hear the Octobass, an Instrument (Almost) Too Big to Play

What’s nearly 12 feet tall, made of wood, and capable of producing a sound so low that most human beings can’t even hear it? That would be the octobass, the largest string instrument ever brought into existence. Though its curves and angles follow the familiar silhouette of its smaller stringed relatives (violins, violas, cellos, etc.), the octobass stands at a gargantuan 11 feet, 5 inches—so high, even a professional basketball player would have to stand on a platform to reach the instrument’s neck.

In addition to its recognizable shape, the octobass shares with other string instruments the same mechanisms for producing sound; a player holds down certain strings in a particular pattern to modify their pitch, then draws out the notes by plucking, strumming, or bowing those strings. However, whereas a violin can be scaled down to half- or three-quarter-size for a small child unable to stretch their fingers to reach all the frets, no aspiring octobass player can scale themselves up to accommodate the total distance of its fingerboard. Instead, the octobassist must become familiar with a series of levers attached to mechanisms that press the strings down, which they operate while simultaneously handling a bow that’s shorter, but much heavier than a typical bass bow. When legendary French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume constructed the original “octobasse” in 1850, it was considered a two-player instrument, with one musician assigned to the levers and another to the bow, both working to produce a single sound.

It tunes to two full octaves below a cello and one octave below a standard double bass or the lowest note on a piano, and its range extends down to a C note pitched at 16 hertz—lower than the normal human hearing range, which bottoms out at about 20 hertz. Colin Pearson, curator of the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona, explains the value of such an apparently un-musical instrument in a way that makes it seem like a very expensive science fair project: “It’s wonderful for demonstrating how sound waves work, and how a string vibrates. These strings are so large and so massive that the vibrations are slow enough for us to actually see them.”

Despite Vuillaume’s intention for the octobass to take its rightful place among other members of a traditional orchestra, modern uses of the instrument are few and far between, in part due to its scarcity. Vuillaume built three models of his massive invention, and today, only three playable replicas exist around the world: the one in Phoenix, another in Paris, and a third newly built in 2015, which debuted with an original composition for octobass and violin at Oslo’s Only Connect Festival of Sound. Nico Abondolo, principal bass player of the LA Chamber Orchestra and favored bassist of Hollywood composers like Hans Zimmer, says that his time experimenting with MIM’s octobass was “a surreal experience.”

While it holds a certain fascination, the octobass won’t be making a resurgence in popularity anytime soon. It is, however, perfectly suited for playing one song in particular: the theme song from 1975 thriller Jaws.

[h/t Open Culture]

Banner images via YouTube.

The Most Popular Infomercial Product in Each State

You don't have to pay $19.95 plus shipping and handling to discover the most popular infomercial product in each state: AT&T retailer All Home Connections is giving that information away for free via a handy map.

The map was compiled by cross-referencing the top-grossing infomercial products of all time with Google Trends search interest from the past calendar year. So, which crazy products do people order most from their TVs?

Folks in Arizona know that it's too hot there to wear layers; that's why they invest in the Cami Secret—a clip-on, mock top that gives them the look of a camisole without all the added fabric. No-nonsense New Yorkers are protecting themselves from identity theft with the RFID-blocking Aluma wallet. Delaware's priorities are all sorted out, because tons of its residents are still riding the Snuggie wave. Meanwhile, Vermont has figured out that Pajama Jeans are the way to go—because who needs real pants?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular product in many states has to do with fitness and weight loss, because when you're watching TV late enough to start seeing infomercials, you're probably also thinking to yourself: "I need to get my life together. I should get in shape." Seven states—Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin—have invested in the P90X home fitness system, while West Virginia and Arkansas prefer the gentler workout provided by the Shake Weight. The ThighMaster is still a thing in Illinois and Washington, while Total Gym and Bowflex were favored by South Dakota and Wyoming, respectively. 

Kitchen items are clearly another category ripe for impulse-buying: Alabama and North Dakota are all over the George Forman Grill; Alaska and Rhode Island are mixing things up with the Magic Bullet; and Floridians must be using their Slice-o-matics to chop up limes for their poolside margaritas.

Cleaning products like OxiClean (D.C. and Hawaii), Sani Sticks (North Carolina), and the infamous ShamWow (which claims the loyalty of Mainers) are also popular, but it's Proactiv that turned out to be the big winner. The beloved skin care system claimed the top spot in eight states—California, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas—making it the most popular item on the map.

Peep the full map above, or check out the full study from All Home Connections here.

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A Florida Brewery Created Edible Six-Pack Rings to Protect Marine Animals

For tiny scraps of plastic, six-pack rings can pose a huge threat to marine life. Small enough and ubiquitous enough that they’re easy to discard and forget about, the little plastic webs all too often make their way to the ocean, where animals can ingest or become trapped in them. In order to combat that problem, Florida-based Saltwater Brewery has created what they say is the world’s first fully biodegradable, compostable, edible six-pack rings.

The edible rings are made of barley and wheat and are, if not necessarily tasty, at least safe for animals and humans to ingest. Saltwater Brewery started packaging their beers with the edible six-pack rings in 2016. They charge slightly more for their brews to offset the cost of the rings' production. They hope that customers will be willing to pay a bit more for the environmentally friendly beers and are encouraging other companies to adopt the edible six-pack rings in order to lower manufacturing prices and save more animals.

As Saltwater Brewery president Chris Gove says in the video above: “We want to influence the big guys and kind of inspire them to also get on board.”

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