Among them is an Italian musician named Nicola Moneta. Perhaps because he grew up in a wealthy family, Moneta certainly had all the time and money he needed to pursue his interests. Though he has enjoyed great success as a contrabass player, he was also interested in percussion instruments and studied to become a timpanist. He then developed a passion for recreating Baroque-era instruments—and his perfectionism even drove him to create a tromba marina on his own. Today, most stringed instruments have nylon strings, but back then the strings were made from sheep gut. So Moneta became obsessed with making these sheep gut strings. By the way—the tromba marina is considered a musical instrument, but as a musician, I have a hard time calling it that. It not only looks ugly, but it doesn’t make a beautiful sound, either. The word tromba means “horn” in Italian, while marina refers to the seaside. But no matter how you look at it, the tromba marina is a stringed instrument. Why do they call it a horn? And does it make some kind of sound that reminds people of the ocean? When I actually had Moneta play it for me, there was nothing ocean-like about it. I was so overcome with laughter at its bizarre shape and weird sound that I completely forgot to ask how it got its name.
Moneta’s house is full of his eclectic musical instrument collection, but what’s so wonderful is that he doesn’t just display these pieces—he manages to play them as well. And he has an instrument that is even more extreme than the tromba marina—the octobass. In fact, Moneta is one of the few musicians in the world that can play it. Even larger than a contrabass, the octobass is probably something you’ve never even seen before. At one point, Moneta was the only octobass player in the world, but apparently there has since been a revival of the instrument.
Several years ago, I participated in a symphony orchestra concert where Moneta played the octobass. The range of the octobass is so low that I wasn’t able to take in the sound at all (the rest of the orchestra was probably too loud, too). When I asked some of the audience members what they thought of it, they said it was like an inexplicably low sound bellowing out into the audience and quietly flowing between the seats. The image of a massive whale swimming quietly at the bottom of the sea came to mind, and made me wish I had been out in the audience to hear it as well.