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Giles Brindley – The Logical Bassoon

Giles Brindley And The Logical Bassoon

As noted, I found references to Giles Brindley composing music  and, most intriguingly, developing the logical bassoon “which aimed to improve intonation and evenness of tone through use of electrically-activated key combinations that were too complex for the human hand to manage.”1

These two excerpts from contemporaneous articles provide basic information about his innovation.

As Here Comes The Electric Bassoon explains:

The problem with the acoustic bassoon however is that it is fiendishly difficult to learn and to play. This has meant that its popularity has been confined to a small number of highly talented musicians. But now, hotshot British inventor Giles Brindley has replaced the acoustic bassoon with his Logical Bassoon. The Logical Bassoon has all the sound and all the style of the acoustic bassoon, and more posing potential than the electric guitar. But instead of being played purely manually, the Logical Bassoon has a ‘keyboard’ and wires and relays control tiny valves, which are used to generate the different notes. The Logical Bassoon is easier to learn than the acoustic bassoon because the notes have a sensible layout and lie under the fingers. The Logical Bassoon is easier to play because the difficult finger stretches of the acoustic bassoon are avoided.

This more complete description is from To The World’s Bassoonists:

On my trip to England last summer (August, 1969),1 had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Giles Brindley, a scientist, brilliant acoustician, and amateur bassoonist. Dr. Brindley is the inventor, designer, and builder of an unusual instrument which he calls the Logical Bassoon. The characteristics of the instrument are as follows: 1) hand made of sapele wood (resembles maple), 2) Except for the crook and first 16 cms of the bore which changes from circular gradually to square, the bore of this instrument is square (for ease of construction). 3) The tube bends back twice for compactness. The instrument stands on the floor, is steadied between the player’s thighs, and rises in height approximately to his shoulder level. The crook is shortened and resembles an English horn crook in angle. 4) The range is from Low A1 to e”, 5) Except for the high e” key, added later and functioning mechanically with little finger, all notes are played by depressing easy combinations of electrical switches – one for each finger and the thumbs. These switches are connected to an electrical circuit (two stages: recognition circuit and programming circuit) which activates the dosing and opening of note holes, 6) There are eleven speaker holes which automatically operate to ease the playing of upper partials, 7) The electricity comes from mains current (probably a battery could also be adapted for outdoors) – and provides one further advantage: A nichrome wire heater extending into the bore and another heater wrapped around the crook provide variable pitch control of the entire instrument ranging from ‘h step below A= 440 tuning to 1/2 step above A=440 tuning (any degree). In addition, because the inside temperature of the bassoon is higher than the temperature of the player’s breath (during performance) no water condenses in the instrument however long it is played, 8.) Playing is with regular bassoon reed, and normal resistance is felt. The tone quality is very close to that of a good German system bassoon, 9) Efficiency of sound is somewhat less than that of a good Heckel bassoon, but I attribute this at least partly to the unusual bore, 10) Adjusting intonation by lip control and/or breath intensity is the same as for normal bassoons (intonation of the bassoon is generally quite even) and 11) fingering is much easier than any other woodwind instrument I have seen. All A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. (any octave) have the same basic fingering, octave change being accomplished with either little finger(s) or thumb(s) ). To sharp any note 1/2 step, finger the note and add the left thumb! This makes the trill Ab -Bb, for example, a variation of a G – A trill: finger G, add left thumb for G sharp (Ab), then trill the G and A “keys” with complete ease.

I listened to Dr. Brindley play several difficult passages on his “Logical Bassoon” with no fingering difficulty. I also played a few scales and passages myself and found the instrument quite easy to adjust to (with an almost “normal” bassoon feel).

For a more complete technical description of the instrument including photographs, all acoustical and electrical details, a fingering chart, and an excellent explanation of the instrument, I refer you to The Galpin Society Journal No. XXI. An article titled The Logical Bassoon by Giles Brindley, includes pages 152-161.

Although Dr. Brindley does not plan to market his invention, and it is difficult to see us playing on instruments of this type in the near future, I believe certain improvements found on the Logical Bassoon could be studied by today’s musicians. The extra speaker holes to ease formation of upper partials could reduce some of the complex cross fingerings we now use in the high register. Also, the electric heating system – if not practical immediately for bassoonists – might at least help clarinetists who pick up a cold A clarinet and play flat for the first minute or so until their breath warms the air inside the instrument.))

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  1. Wikipedia: Bassoon; The citation for Brindley’s original article follows: The Logical Bassoon, Giles Brindley, Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 21, Mar., 1968 (Mar., 1968), pp. 152-161 doi:10.2307/841438