CAFE is best remembered for its outstanding musicianship, playing a wide variety of musical genres, and of course the 10-foot long contrabass flute.  This is the second of four articles that explore this distinctive member of the flute family.  Thanks to for sharing this enlightening information.

Contemporary and Experimental Music:

The Contrabass flute has found a significant place in contemporary and experimental music genres. Its distinctive sound and extended range makes it an ideal instrument for avant-garde compositions and explorations of new sonic possibilities. Composers and performers alike have embraced the Contrabass flute as a tool for pushing the boundaries of traditional musical conventions.

In contemporary music, the Contrabass flute is often used to explore unconventional playing techniques, extended techniques, and alternative sound production methods. This experimentation results in unique and innovative sounds that challenge traditional notions of flute playing.

Composers may employ techniques such as multiphonics, microtonal passages, flutter-tonguing, and percussive effects to create intricate and expressive compositions. Experimental music further pushes the boundaries of the Contrabass flute’s capabilities.

Composers and performers may incorporate electronic effects, live electronics, improvisation, and interactive technologies to create immersive and immersive sonic experiences. The Contrabass flute’s deep and resonant voice provides a rich foundation for these explorations, allowing for a wide range of sonic possibilities.

Notable Contrabass Flute Players and Composers


Several exceptional musicians have contributed to the advancement and popularization of the Contrabass flute as a solo and ensemble instrument. These performers have showcased the instrument’s unique capabilities through their virtuosic playing and dedication to expanding its repertoire.

One notable Contrabass flute performer is Carla Rees, an internationally acclaimed flutist and founder of the contemporary music ensemble Rarescale. Rees has been instrumental in commissioning and premiering numerous works for the Contrabass flute, pushing its boundaries and exploring its expressive potential.

Another renowned Contrabass flute player is Peter Sheridan, an Australian flutist who has performed extensively as a soloist and chamber musician. Sheridan’s command of the instrument and his expressive interpretations have earned him recognition as a leading Contrabass flute performer.


Composers play a crucial role in shaping the Contrabass flute repertoire and pushing the boundaries of its possibilities. Through their innovative compositions, they explore the unique timbral and technical capabilities of the instrument, contributing to its development as a distinct voice in contemporary music.

One influential composer of the Contrabass flute is Brian Ferneyhough. His composition “Flurries” is a challenging and virtuosic solo piece that pushes the performer’s technical abilities to the limit while exploring the instrument’s sonic potential.

Another notable composer is Ian Clarke, known for his composition “The Great Train Race.” This piece showcases the Contrabass flute’s rhythmic and melodic capabilities, incorporating elements of jazz and world music to create a dynamic and engaging musical experience.

Other notable composers who have contributed to the Contrabass flute repertoire include Robert Dick, Katherine Hoover, and Lowell Liebermann. Their compositions explore various musical styles and techniques, demonstrating the versatility and expressive range of the instrument.

These performers and composers, among others, have made significant contributions to the Contrabass flute’s development as a solo and ensemble instrument. Through their artistry and creativity, they continue to shape and expand the instrument’s repertoire, ensuring its place in the world of contemporary music.

Comparison with Other Flutes

Contrabass Flute vs. Bass Flute:

The Contrabass flute and the Bass flute are both members of the flute family, but they differ in terms of size, range, and tonal characteristics.

Size and Physical Characteristics:

– The Contrabass flute is the largest member of the flute family and is often referred to as the “gentle giant” due to its impressive size. It measures around 8 to 9 feet in length and is bent to allow for easier reach and handling. The Contrabass flute is usually made of metal, such as silver or gold-plated brass, to support its large size and maintain structural integrity.

– The Bass flute, on the other hand, is smaller than the Contrabass flute but larger than the standard C flute. It measures approximately 57 to 62 inches in length and is also made of metal. The Bass flute is typically straight in design, resembling a longer version of the C flute.

Range and Transposition:

– The Contrabass flute has an astonishingly low range, extending down to C2 or even lower. Its deep and resonant sound adds a rich foundation to the flute section or ensemble. The Contrabass flute is often notated an octave above its sounding pitch, which means that when a C2 is played, it sounds like a C1.

– The Bass flute has a lower range compared to the standard C flute but is higher in pitch than the Contrabass flute. It typically plays from B2 to F5. The Bass flute is notated at its sounding pitch, so when a C4 is played, it sounds like a C4.

Tonality and Sound:

– The Contrabass flute produces a distinctive and commanding sound. Its deep and resonant tone adds a unique flavor to the ensemble, providing a solid foundation in the lower register. The Contrabass flute’s sound is characterized by its warm, velvety, and full-bodied timbre, which contributes to its versatility in various musical genres.

– The Bass flute, although also known for its rich and sonorous tone, has a slightly higher pitch and a more focused sound compared to the Contrabass flute. It retains the flute’s characteristic brightness while adding depth and complexity to the lower octaves.

Part four of this series will cover more low flutes and conclude this exploration of contrabass flutes.