When the “The Hunger Games” debuts Friday in theaters, it will be with the help of a rare musical instrument from right here in the Valley.
The octobasse, a 12-foot-tall bowed lute housed at Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, plays a role in the film’s score.
Its low, rumbling sound was recorded last summer by technicians from Remote Control Productions, the company of Hollywood film composer Hans Zimmer. Composer James Newton Howard used the sounds to create music for “The Hunger Games.”
“They set aside a whole day to record the octobasse, because they knew it would be incredibly versatile and useful in a variety of scores,” says Garry Kling, MIM’s manager of multimedia production. He worked with the team that came to the museum to capture the sounds of about 40 instruments for use in upcoming films and video games.
To do it, a crew had to disassemble the giant octobasse, move it from its gallery to MIM’s Music Theater stage, and reassemble it, so it could be played.
“They go through, one note at a time, playing the note at different volumes and different articulation styles. Then they load it all into a keyboard so they can play it digitally,” says Kling.
The octobasse was conceived in the mid-1800s to extend the bass register of an orchestra, playing an octave lower than the more common double bass.
“It creates much more of an impact and resonance. An octave is the same note but lower, so putting an extra bass note beneath a bass note — it just becomes more powerful and resonates better and makes all the notes above it ring more. It sounds like a rumbling engine to me, a very large engine with lots of horsepower,” says Kling.
The instrument was not an everyday part of an orchestra; rather, it was used for special events, such as the coronation of the king.
“Added at key dramatic moments or for some kind of chilling effect, you can imagine it would be very fitting for pieces of music that are meant to be very dark or forboding,” says Kling, adding that the octobasse can make powerful, triumphant sounds, too.
“It’s really like the sub-woofer of an orchestra.”
The instrument is so massive, a player must stand on a stool in order to draw a bow across its strings and reach levers that sound different notes.
But sound and size aren’t the only things that make the instrument special.
“There were only a handful that have ever been made,” says Kling. “The number of them out there is less than 10.”
MIM’s octobasse was built in 2007 in Italy, a replica of the original instrument made around 1850. Kling says it’s one of few playable octobasses out there.
“According to the curator who acquired it, it’s the only one that’s made it to the Western hemisphere.”
Kling thinks he’ll be able to recognize the sound of the instrument in the film, despite Hollywood post-production effects. Audiences might, too.
“If they’re at a theater that has a good sound system, when they hear the low, rumbling sounds, it very well could be the octobasse,” he says.
The octobasse will likely appear in more films and video games, but Kling is sworn to secrecy — and a signed confidentiality agreement — when it comes to revealing which ones.
“This instrument’s really a favorite here among guests. If you look on Flickr and social media platforms, one of the most common pictures people take is pictures of the octobasse. I don’t think we have another instrument as eye catching as this one. It’s one of our treasured, iconic instruments, and we’re very proud to have it. We couldn’t have picked a better movie for it to appear in. I’m really hoping it gets in a lot of movies and become’s MIM’s movie star.”