About the bansuri, the transverse flute of the North Indian Classical music...
The flute very popular in India, was known throughout the country under very different names: vamsi, murali,venu (sanskrit), kuzhal (tamil, malayalam), kolavi (kannada)
pillanagrovi (telugu)... The flute was designed in vedic texts under several names: venu, nadi ou nali, toonava ; however it was the word venu which was mostly used. It litterally means “bamboo” or “reed”, this was also mentionned in the Jataka (collection
of stories on Bouddha’s life). These terms with a very general connotation was used for any kind of flutes: transverse flute, straight flute, fipple flute with or without notch.
In sanskrit litterature, murali, synonym of vamsa, was refering to a transverse flute with holes. The murali was one of the principal iconographic attributes of God Krishna, also often called muralidhara (“The one who holds the flute”) or venugopala (“The
divine shepherd with the flute”). In North India this transverse flute is usually called bansuri: one of the many derivations of the Sanskrit word vamsa (“flute”) and the New Indo-Aryen bas (“bamboo”).
As it is played today in the North Indian Classical Music, most of the time the bansuri consists of a 28-inch flute based on the tonic note E. Its length, its large inner diameter and the surprising properties of bamboo give the instrument its characteristic deep, round and velver tone. Made of a variety of bamboo that is found in the Assam région, it has eight holes: one Blow hole, six fingers holes and one, sometimes two tuning hole towards its end. It is usually played over two octoves and sometimes three.
The instrument is not held like a Western transverse flute, or keyed flute. Instead of wrapping the left thumb and forefinger around the flute and holding it vertically with a bent wrist, here both hands are horizontal ; the flute is balanced on the end of both thumbs, and kept in position by the third and little fingers of the right hand. This position gives great freedoom of movement to the fingers, which is necessary for sliding from one note to another.
Finally, accidentals are not obtained thanks to cross fingerings (a cross combination of open and closed holes), unlike the recorder or baroque flute, except in the third octave. All notes are played by closing finger holes completely or partially. This way of playing by closing holes partially of course raises major intonation and tuning
problems at the beginning, but it allows the musician a great flexibility of control for microtonal inflections and melismatic playing, which are so typical of the music of India.
Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia has raised the art of flute playing to its highest level. India has now a whole generation of flute players who are highly influenced by his style, technique and virtuosity.
About the Octobass flute … a fascinating instrument of the 80’s
It was the result of the imagination and the know-how of the French flute maker Jacques Lefèvre then after, of his former assistant Jean-Yves Roosen.
The starting point of the venture was the desire at that time to widen the range of sound possibilities of the transverse flute. The first Octobass created by Jacques Lefèvre was still a transverse flute, the tube being extended on the left of the blowing hole by a large loop and a curve on the far right.
The octobass found its final form with his successor, Jean-Yves Roosen.
To the request of flutist Pierre-Yves Artaud, the great specialist of the contemporary music, in order to develop the powefulness of the graves of the instrument, Jean-Yves Roosen explored all possibilities offered by a larger tube. In order to résolve the problem of the weight of the Octobass (around 10 pounds), he only kept the horizontal tube of the blowing hole, the remaining tube staying vertical.
The new Octobass is now measuring one metre half of height and the length of the tube three meters. The way to hold the instrument gets close to the bass clarinet hence, bringing a definite improvement in the playing, and to the development status of this extraodinary instrument.
The Octobass flute has now gone beyond the experimental phase to find its place in the today’s music. The instrument, still rare, fascinates by its very peculiar qualities of sound. With the Octobass, distance is taken from the pure and precise sound of the flute, as on the contrary, it plays on the blury effect, the blow, the sensation of the bow sound… It aloows to explore all the technical resources of the contemporary playing, very particularly the multi phonics, blast of Blow, singing and sound production mixed and rythmical effects. Its range of notes, close to the cello’s, is covering three octaves and half, starting from the low A, one minor third below the lower cello bass note.