For the March/April 2009 edition of the Saxophone Journal, University of Washington’s saxophone professor Dr. Michael Brockman, wrote an article titled: “The Frankensax: An Experimental 12 Octave Vent Saxophone“. The article discusses the current 2 octave vent system most saxophones have, and why this is problematic. The article then goes on to describe how Brockman went about designing an intriguing, but highly impractical, multi-vented saxophone that utilized 10 manual vents strategically placed over the horn, in addition to the 2 conventional automatic vents.
The result of these strategically placed, manually-operated octave vents? According to Michael Brockman, the experimental sax gives the player “a choice of twelve octave vents to open at will for any note…fingered on the saxophone”1, thereby increasing the chances of creating a “perfect octave”.
Frankensax’s offsping: the Broctave Key
Fast forward 3 years, and an offspring of this Frankensax received its patent last November. Rather than having extra octave vents drilled into the body, Brockman developed a method by which to preserve the original saxophone by adding only 1 extra vent into an existing key. This is how he describes this new key, now called a Broctave Key, on his website:
Because I did not want to drill a new octave vent into my 1952 Paris Selmer Super Balanced, I wanted a device that could be inserted into an existing key of the instrument–one that could be changed or replaced in case I did not want the addition of a new octave vent to be permanent.
Thus, The Broctave Key, U.S. Patent No. WO-2010-068909A2.
Here’s how it works: A small vent is drilled anywhere along the body of a saxophone where an octave key is desired. To avoid permanently altering the instrument’s main body the small vent can be drilled through any existing key on the saxophone. The Broctave Key, a piston-operated mechanism, sits on top of the newly-drilled vent and gives the saxophonist the option of using it for some of the notes that are most likely to be out of tune, such as middle D. Using a piston instead of a lever solves space problems and simplifies installation… If the Broctave Key is mounted onto an existing key, the player can switch back and forth between the standard key and the one with the new Broctave Key attached, as performance situations require. Though the piston could be applied to any key, Brockman considers the high D key to be the most likely candidate because of its heavy use in saxophone repertoire and the challenge of playing the note D in tune.
I did some checking for the various patent numbers that the Broctave Key was assigned, and finally came up with this one, which included the drawings. Here is what the Broctave Key looks like…
Source: Google Patents
Brockman got help with his patent application from the UW Center for Commercialization (C4C). The C4C is still involved with Brockman as they move towards the final version of the Broctave Key.
According to Deborah Alterman, an engineering technology manager at C4C:
Some of the things that make this valve novel and valuable are that it has been designed to have an optimal air flow rate… It’s easy to use while playing the instrument, and has the flexibility to be implemented on either a replaceable key or an existing saxophone.
Benade’s theories predict that if you create new octave vents in just the right places on a saxophone, you can fix the instrument’s tuning problem.
Sounds rather simple in theory doesn’t it? So simple in fact, it’s a wonder that no else has come up with it before now.
I don’t know about you, but I’m rather more intrigued by Frankensax than by the Broctave Key. I think trying to play a 12 octave key sax would be interesting, and yes, quite challenging.
As far as the Broctave Key is concerned, it will be interesting to see if this invention by Dr. Michael Brockman will have legs.
Here are some page links that you might find helpful for further research. There are likely quite a few more, but this will at least get you started.
- The Broctave Key: Michael Brockman’s page on his his invention
- Michael Brockman: Brockman’s home page
- The Frankensax: page on Brockman’s website dedicated to the patriarch of the Broctave Key
- The Frankensax: An Experimental 12 Octave Vent Saxophone: Saxophone Journal article from 2009.
- Unified octave/register key and vent for musical wind instruments US 8314318 B2: one of the numerous patents the Broctave Key has been issued.
1 Source: “The Frankensax: An Experimental 12 Octave Vent Saxophone“, by Dr. Michael Brockman. Saxophone Journal, March/April 2009, p. 3.
© 2013, Helen. All rights reserved.