OctobassLike a vision from a strange surrealist painting, rising up higher than is reasonable in any setting, much less a church, the curious instrument known as the octobass came out of hiding earlier this month, at a music festival in Norway. The creature has stalked the earth since around 1850, when it was first conceived by the French instrument-maker Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. But the octobass has long since commanded attention mostly in the realm of myth, when it commands attention at all.

COMPOSERS AND ORCHESTRAS LIKE TO use their lowest instruments sparingly, for maximum impact. Few instruments go lower and are used more sparingly than the huge and strange octobass, one of the rarest classic instruments in existence.

The octobass originally required two people to play: one on the bow (which, though shorter that the bow of a double bass, is extra heavy) and one working the lever system.