The oboe was developed by the French in the 17th century, taking an already silly instrument with a tone fit only for military outdoor signal calling and enemy intimidation, the shawm, and making it over complicated. This is why most French preparations for duck involve some sort of steampunk contraption and leftover gynecological tools from the set of Dead Ringers.
France, originally, but it spread quickly across all parts of Europe(see also Boring, Boring Rash Arsenal: The Syphilis). The oboe was originally referred to by its French name, hautbois(pronounced “hoe-boy”, as in “Ho boy, is that the way it’s supposed to sound? Really?”) which is French for “loud woodwind” and not “the voice of a duck wood golem singing to you as you shop in your local CVS Pharmacy”.
What and How?
The oboe is a double-reed woodwind, meaning that two flattened reeds vibrate against each other which, coupled with the conical shape of the oboe’s bore, give it its distinguished timbre, described as “bright”, “vibrant”, “piercing”, “cloying”, and “pungent” even. Really it’s not so bad, but its sound is intense; in an attempt to housebreak the instrument, the flared bell of the shawm had to be removed, and the neck piece covering the majority of the reed on the shawm had to be removed as well, giving the oboe a more mellow and controlled sound. The fingerings of an oboe are similar to the fingerings of a saxophone, so on about the second date.
Well, in The Sixties…
The oboe seemed to be the must-have timbre to add a chamber-pop aloofness to feel-good hippie tunes(as compared to the menace of the sitar. which immediately made you switch from a left-handed cigarette or two to black tar heroin). There was “The 59th Street Bridge Song”, so aloof it was called by its sub name, “Feelin’ Groovy” more often than not. “I Got You Babe” was so aloof that it let the woman be taller while the oboist skipped a groove like Zoot from The Electric Mayhem. So aloof was the oboe playing in The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” that it doesn’t bother to be on rhythm or come in to any of the phrases properly, making me pull over to the side of the road and stutter-scream “FIGGITY FUCKING FUUUUUUUUUUUUU” every time it comes on the radio(listening to the single version of this song with a good set of headphones is a decent into madness, like The Serpent and The Rainbow but with more triangle rolls).
In The Seventies…
… that’s it. You needn’t hear anything else involving the oboe from The Seventies unless Peter Gabriel is playing one.
In The Eighties? This…
[skip to 1:53 if you must]
…which led to this:
[skip to 3:44 if you must, but don’t…]
The Nineties? Sorry, I got nothing.
But in the 2000’s, the prog-metal group Opeth go back to capturing the chamber music vibe of The Sixties with the opening track from their 2008 album Watershed, “Coil”. But no aloofness here. Oh, goodness no. “Coil” warms you up for the track “Heir Apparent”, which the band was nice enough to call it instead of “Heir Apparent to Slayer and Megadeth as Proven By This Song”.
So enjoy the oboe this week, or just enjoy some aloof duck noises. Better yet, in an act of aloof solidarity with the oboe, go full “Bartleby the Scrivener” on someone when they ask you about Duck Dynasty, then pass it to the left.