THE AULOCHROME

François Louis François Louis Jos L. Knaepen
In Belgium, the country of its original inventor, Adolphe Sax, the saxophone has recently been reinvented by François Louis. Known worldwide albeit only by saxophone players and flutists as the inventor and builder of a complete new range of legendary mouthpieces, reed ligatures and reeds, Louis has invented the instrument of the third millennium.

Mel Lewis’ 1984 "20 Years at the Village Vanguard" was the first album that featured a François Louis’ revolutionary hand-made mouthpiece of boxwood, played by Joe Lovano. Two years later while Louis was back in New York with his new concept, great saxophone players like David Liebman, Michael Brecker, Billy and Glen Drewes, Steve Slagle, Gary Smulian, Ralph Lalama and Dick Oats all had the opportunity of trying Louis’ new hand-made metal tenor mouthpiece.

In 1987, Bob Berg acquired his first solid silver François Louis’ mouthpiece. Since then, the order list for Louis’ mouthpieces and ligatures has grown steadily. They include names like Ronnie Cuber, Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, Bob Mintzer, David Sanborn, Chris Potter, David Sanchez, Kenny Garrett, Nigel Hitchcock, Emanuele Cisi, Tim Ries, Mark Shim, Jorge Pardo, Andy Middleton, François Théberge, David Renter and Gary Keller.

For more than 20 years however, François Louis has been racking his brain on the limits of the soprano saxophone, especially where it comes to playing in the low register. He knew there had to be some kind of way to play much lower notes than had been possible until then on the soprano saxophone. By studying the singing of the Pygmies, he had the idea of creating an instrument that could produce differential tones (i.e., virtual bass note resulting from the difference of the frequencies of the two notes of one interval), as well as additional tones extending the lower register far below the deepest note determined by the length of the pipe of the soprano sax. He soon realized that the only way to create such an instrument was to combine two of them so that they could be played simultaneously by one person, something Roland Kirk had already understood years before, but there had to be a more comfortable way of playing two saxophones at the same time.

A whole series of morphological applications went through François Louis’ mind until he finally came to the most logical result: two soprano saxophones welded lengthwise to each other, starting in one single hybrid mouthpiece, and combining two openings with their separate reeds and ending in two separate openings.

Saxophone player and composer, Farbrizio Cassol, who happened to be the first person to whom François Louis revealed his idea, and who had coincidently been working some time on the idea of playing polyphonically on his alto sax, saw this new concept of a revolutionary instrument as the ultimate solution to his problem. As a result, the two became partners in the conception of what would become the "Aulochrome." The name combines "Aulos," a most important ancient Greek instrument (a reed pipe appearing in identical pairs) and "chrome" for chromatic and coloured. The Aulochrome is nothing else than a chromatic Aulos.

All kinds of conceivable problems resulted over years of lobbying, fundraising, organizing contacts and working on the instrument. Finally on October 26, 2002, the Aulochrome made its world premier in Paris, France. The enthusiastic audience was the first to experience the famous Aulochrome sound; a new polyphonic and chromatic woodwind instrument resembling two soprano saxophone bodies and using a revolutionary mechanism, allowing the keys of both pipes to be played either separately or together over the entire range. As a result, any possible interval can be played chromatically from the lowest note of one pipe to the highest note of the other pipe.

The mouthpiece of the Aulochrome is made of two separate elements placed together. The tone chambers are different, enabling independent harmonization in the two pipes. Particular attention to the acoustics of this instrument opens up vast new possibilities to saxophonists. Apart from its polyphonic capacity and its possibility to produce differential tones, a tiny "mistuning" of the unison generates beats, of which the musician can control the rhythm of the pulsations. All of this creates new tone effects by totally acoustic means and offers the possibility of playing contrapuntal lines.

Fabrizio Cassol started the study of the Aulochrome on September 10, 2001. He has worked in close collaboration with Philippe Boesmans who wrote the first piece for the Aulochrome, Fanfare III (for Aulochrome and orchestra) debuting the piece in Paris on October 26, 2002 and in Brussels on March 23, 2003.

"I can assure you that the building of the Aulochrome has not always been as easy as you would imagine," says François Louis. "Fabrizio has gradually experienced the evolution of the instrument and I have clearly heard his musical pieces evolve according to the way new keys were added as part of its perfection and completion. You must know that the Aulochrome is much more than simply two soprano saxes welded to each other. I succeeded, for instance, to reduce the weight of both pipes together to almost that of one single: only 10 grams more. I also improved the mechanics so that they respond instantly. Every musician playing the instrument for the first time is extremely surprised by the total lack of resistance while pressing the mechanics. It has always been my aim to build mouthpieces allowing musicians to improve their own sound to the highest possible level, increasing their wish to play more than ever. By conceiving the Aulochrome, I hope to stimulate a new generation of musicians with the urge to travel new paths in music."

Fabrizio Cassol says, "The mass production of the Aulochrome should start as soon as possible in order to open up new possibilities, in fact as many as there will be musicians approaching this revolutionary instrument all in their own way."

Meanwhile, some great musicians have had the occasion to try the Aulochrome. All of them are unanimously enthusiastic about the instrument:

Joe Lovano: "François Louis’ creation of the Aulochrome, the first polyphonic saxophone, is the next offspring in the woodwind family. The Aulochrome is truly a revelation in the world of musical instrument development and will generate and inspire musicians and composers in the new millennium and beyond. It’s potential to create textures and sounds never before imagined are indescribable. To see and hear this instrument is one thing, but to hold it and have it come to life with your breath and ideas, is what the magic of the music is all about.

I’ve had the great fortune to see the Aulochrome develop from its birth and dream of the day I can study and develop its unlimited potential with my approach in music. To play counter-melodies, harmonic voicings, intervallic rhythms, unisons, exploring its overtones and undertones, to sing with two voices, it’s a beautiful dream that has become reality. Thanks to François Louis and his deep passion and genius. Bravo !!" (Joe LOVANO, Feb.10th 2003, Musician/ composer, "Gary Burton" Chair in Jazz Performance, Berklee College of Music)

Lee Konitz: "François Louis has done it again! This time it’s a double saxophone! Able to play two notes together like Roland Kirk, but with one instrument. I look forward to the day this instrument is available to all of us to try and enjoy. Bravo François!" (Lee Konitz, Feb. 11, 2003, Partner of Miles Davis on the legendary jazz album "Birth of the Cool)

Anthony Braxton: "François Louis is one of the great pioneers of this time period. His work with the Aulochrome is a serious breakthrough for acoustic instrumental exploration and research. With this instrument, it is clear that a third millennial opening has now been created and we can only thank Mr. Louis for his dedicated efforts. The Aulochrome is the first serious restructural breakthrough in wind instrumental conception and design since the other visionary Belgian master Adolph Sax began his work in the 1840&&&s, setting up the stage for the modern era. A visionary like Mr. François Louis must be supported because it is important for our people to have hope for the future. The invention of the Aulochrome opens up a fresh universe for creative exploration and discovery. The dynamic implications of this instrument challenge the popular belief that the limits of acoustic instrumental discovery have now been reached and that only electronic and digital propositions will form the base of human experience for the future. The development of the Aulochrome instrument of Mr. François Louis will play a serious role in the reforming evolution of creative music and creative positive thinking." (Anthony BRAXTON, March 17, 2003)

Tim Armacost: "To François Louis: Congratulations on the birth of your new and revolutionary Aulochrome! It was a pleasure to see you in Paris and it was definitely worth the trip to get a taste of the possibilities of the horn. I’ve been trying to find a way to play polyrhythm on the saxophone for a while and I think you’ve given the answer. Please keep me up to date about what’s happening production-wise, as I want to start practicing as soon as possible." (Tim Armacost - Feb.2, 2003)

The Aulochrome, far from being exclusively destined to be used in the world of contemporary classical music, has meanwhile entered the universe of jazz. Recently, during a concert of Aka Moon and Ictus in the Concertgebouw in Bruges [Belgium], Fabrizio Cassol played the Aulochrome in a song called Vasco. The audience remained speechless!

The conception and the construction of the Aulochrome are entirely the work of instrument maker François Louis, who thanks the S.P.E.S. Foundation, "Brussels 2000," Sylvain Cambreling represented by D.A.R.S.A., and Orfeo Borgani for their support. He also thanks Fabrizio Cassol for his intensive collaboration.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: François Louis
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