Musical Slates Project:  February 2012

Over the last year I have embarked on my own project to create some playable stone.  Inspired by all the different examples I have discovered, and as the result of having available to me the broken slates from a roof that was being replaced, I set about making sets of tuned slate fragments.  In February I will be introducing these in a series of events in Gloucestershire.

From Friday 3rd February until Wednesday 8th February some of my musical slates will be installed at Meantime Project-Space in Cheltenham (Oxford Passage, off St Margaret's Road GL50 4EF) with a series of related events:

Friday 3rd February 7.30 pm   Illustrated talk about musical stone plus performance by members of the Cheltenham Improvisers Orchestra.

Saturday 4th February.   Musical slate workshops:  10.30-12.00 (under-12s) 2.30-4.00 (adults) £3.00

Wednesday 8th February   Performance by Cheltenham Improvisers Orchestra plus guests.

Moving on from Meantime:

Thursday 9th February   Musical Slates workshops at a Stroud primary school (pupils only)

Saturday 11th February   Musical Slates workshop at 16th Cheltenham Folk Festival.  12.45  Playhouse Theatre, Joan Cross Lounge.


"Sounds, Stones & Sculpture":   Workshop at University of Leeds Thursday 20 and Friday 21 January 2011

Jointly organized by Ruskin Rocks and NACNet this workshop will feature papers on a number of topics relating to the creation of instruments utilising both stone and concrete. It is anticipated that there will be discussion about possible future areas of research and a performance of Rob MacKay's surround sound Electro Acoustic Piece, commissioned by the Ruskin Rocks project for the new Brantwood lithophone (see below).  The workshop takes place in Room 8.119, School of Earth and Environment.  Further information from Kirsty Schofield, 0113 343 1938

Dame Evelyn Glennie playing new Brantwood Musical Stones
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Two new lithophones in Cumbria, UK   5.9.10


On Thursday 19 August, 2010 two new lithophones were unveiled by Dame Evelyn Glennie at Brantwood, the former home of writer and critic John Ruskin on the bankof Coniston Water.   As a boy, Ruskin had seen a set of Cumbrian musical stones whilst on holiday with his parents.  In later years, having moved to the Lake District, Ruskin became aware of a new interest in rock instruments, popularised through family bands such as the Richardsons and later the Tills.  He commissioned William Till to build him a small instrument which he housed at Brantwood mainly, he said, for the amusement of visiting children.

A century and a half later two more new instruments are being housed at Brantwood.  These have been created as a result of a project instigated at the University of Leeds by Bobbie Millar.  The largest of the two lithophones, designed and built by Marcus de Mowbray, is a four-octave chromatic instrument utilising four different types of local stone.  The stone bars are set out, as is usual with tuned percussion, in the pattern of a piano keyboard.  One innovation, however, is that most of the bars (the equivalent to the white keys) are angled away from the player, making it more ergonomically efficient.  The bars are mounted on a wooden sound cabinet with panels which can themselves be sounded in the manner of a cajón.

The other instrument, the brainchild of Dr Kia C. Ng from the University of Leeds and known as the iRock, hauls the lithophone from its nineteenth century roots firmly into the twenty-first.  Each of its stone bars has an electronic sensor attached to it which can trigger a number of functions, from minor modifications to the natural ringing of the stone to completely new synthesized sounds. The sensors can also trigger the visual screening of information pertaining to the geological characteristics of each stone bar.  For more information on the background to this project go to to the project.htm 


 British Museum given rock gongs from Sudan          4.3.10          


For over ten years the British Museum have been working with the Sudan Archaeological Research Society, surveying, recording and excavating the region surrounding the Fourth Cataract of the Nile in Sudan prior to the damming of the river.  This would have led to the loss of historically important sites which included over 50 pieces of rock art and rock gongs dating to between 5000 BC – AD 1500.  In recognition of this assistance 20 pieces have been donated to the British Museum.  In addition to a number of pieces of early rock art depicting camels, sheep, cows and human beings there are two rock gongs.  These would probably have been played by striking them with quartzite pebbles.  Rock gongs and rock art are often to be found in the same location, as seen in an episode of the BBC series Lost Kingdoms of Africa.  The British Museum is apparently hoping to have the gongs, plus some of the rock art, on display by August 2010.

(Source: British Museum press release and email)


New rock instrument for Cumbria          4.3.10

The world-famous percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie is taking part in a new project which introduces children to geology by constructing and playing ‘musical rocks’.

The University of Leeds has been awarded nearly £200,000 by Natural England, through DEFRA's Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund, to create a 21st century percussion instrument using rocks found throughout Cumbria.

Although most rocks simply give a dull thud when struck, some rocks 'ring' - including a number of those found in Cumbria.  With the assistance of music and multimedia technologies, this project will use real-time digital signal processing to bring out the qualities of the rock sound beyond the range of natural hearing - making an innovative percussion instrument.

The rocks will be donated by quarries in Cumbria, reflecting the range of geological time and the different types of rock represented in the region. Local schoolchildren will make quarry visits and collect rocks for instruments of their own.

The project co-ordinator, Bobbie Millar, at the University of Leeds said: "This project is a great example of bringing together different disciplines to create something that is unusual, exciting and accessible.  For some people geology can seem very academic, but this project is designed to make it fun and understandable by blending it with music and technology."

The project is being hosted by Brantwood, the former home of philosopher John Ruskin, and will reflect Ruskin's approach to geology, nature and music.

As well as constructing instruments from musical rocks and stones, the project will link multimedia, computer vision, computer music and digital media, to create interactive explanations of the geology and musical properties of the selected rocks.

Dame Evelyn Glennie said: "This project links closely to many new and conceptual ideas. It seeks to unlock the potential of the fabric of our landscape to teach us not only about the past but also the future. It is right and proper that the natural curiosity of children is embraced and they will be able to embed their findings of both music and geology into the history books of tomorrow.

"My personal hope is that many others will follow in our footsteps and add to this initial development of an interesting instrument thus unlocking the mysteries of these ancient rocks and landscape".

The musical rock instrument will be available to be played by visitors of all ages after its launch in August 2010.  Brantwood will host the installation which will include a large rock instrument, interactive electronics and related interpretation materials in the Linton Room, a small stone cottage adjacent to the main house with views over Coniston Water. 

Inmates of Haverigg Prison at Millom in Cumbria will also help with the construction of the frames for the rock instruments.  Haverigg Prison has an established relationship with the Ruskin Foundation through a number of collaborative projects.

The project is being led by Bruce Yardley, Professor in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. Geologists with extensive knowledge of the Lake District are also taking part, as well as Dr Kia Ng director of the Leeds University Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Research in Music (ICSRiM), instrument specialists and the staff at Brantwood.  

Dame Evelyn Glennie will demonstrate the completed instrument at its launch on 19 August 2010, which is open to the public. 

(Source:  University of Leeds press release)






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