BUILDERS, COMPOSERS, AND MUSICIANS
Tony di Napoli was born in France but now lives in Belgium combining his skills as a sculptor with his musical interests, producing a range of stone instruments which he has incorporated in different work, some in collaborative theatre productions. In 2002 Napoli spent time in Vietnam, studying the historical use of lithophones in that country, and working with a Vietnamese percussion group plus Hanoi composer Vu Nhat Tan. Toni di Napoli is pictured below playing some of his instruments.
Composer Dirk Brossé (1960-) used stone percussion in his work "Birth of music"
Composer, musician and artist Jesse Stewart created a lithophone comprising 100 slabs of marble in 1999. His instrument moved away from the western scale by including first quarter then eighth tones. He also uses the marble slabs in different configurations, such as that seen in the picture below, for use in particular compositions and improvisations.
Percussionist and composer Gilles Dalbis uses instruments from around the world as well as building his own, using a range of materials. He has built a number of lithophones which he uses in performance. www.gillesdalbis.com
Musician and instrument builder Will Menter is an Englishman but has long been resident in France. His performances and recordings are intrinsically linked to the environments in which they take place, sometimes making use of the resonance of underground caverns. His use of the sound of slate has led him to build a series of so-called slate marimbas. www.neufportes.net/inst.htm
Sculptor Elmar Daucher (1932-1989] produced a number of sculptures from granite, marble and basalt which produced sound by being struck or stroked by hand. Some of these can be heard on the ECM album by Stephan Micus The music of stones in a recording made in Ulm Cathedral, with the stones being played by Daucher himself and two others.
Klangsteine was a trio featuring Klaus Feßmann (pictured), Friedemann Dähn and Manfred Kniel They developed different ways of playing stones, including instruments they had designed and built themselves, rubbing the stones as well as striking them.
Einstürzende Neubaten were a very successful 'noise' band using industrial tools as well as more conventional instruments in their music. Their drummer F M Einheit left to pursue a solo career producing music for theatre and developing his own ideas which included the use of stone. In 1992 he brought out the album Stein.after which he formed a band with the same name, releasing the album Steinzeit.
Composer Gerhard Stäbler incorporated a lithophone, played by Rainer Romer, in his Ungaretti Lieder. www.gerhard-staebler.de
Páll Guđmansson is an Icelandic sculptor who builds chromatic lithophones from local basaltic, isotropic rock. The individual stones are laid out loosely rather than being fixed, enabling them to be re-arranged or extended up to three and a half octaves, around ten metres long. He calls them steinharpa and their sound has become widely heard through his work with the Icelandic band Sigur Rós.
Icelandic composer and activist Elias Davidsson (b.1941) has also builtand composed for a lithophone.
Paul Fuchs (1936-) is a German sculptor, living in Italy, who also describes himself as Klangkünstler or sound artist. In 1966 he began work on his Giardino dei Suoni or Garden of Sound near the Massa Marittima in Tuscany. Working with a range of materials Fuchs has used pieces of stone, placing them in environmental settings and playing them with his group Anima. The picture below shows one of his lithophones being played in the Giardino by percussionist Zoro Babel. www.paulfuchs.com
Pinuccio Sciola (1942-2016) was one of Italy’s leading sculptors with an international reputation. Research into the properties of stone led him to explore its aural qualities. In some of these sound sculptures he made parallel grooves in the rock, enabling them to be played with the hand, making them sing in a beautiful and haunting way (below).
Pietro Pirelli is a musician and sound artist who uses different materials in his work and in particular stone, having collaborated in performances with Pinuccio Sciola playing his sound sculptures. He also worked with sculptor Giancarlo Sangregorio and the resulting video of a live performance in 2013, La Pietra Sonante is a wonderful example of the range of musical possibilities offered by stone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5Q5bW3bYMM
Sound artist and sculptor Danny Becher was born in Germany, has worked in Sweden, but seems to be currently residing in the Netherlands. As part of his work as a teacher and performer exploring the meditative power of music and sound he uses granite and crystallized marble. (Picture below) www.dannybecher.com
Experimental composer and musician Philip Dadson (b.1946) worked with Cornelius Cardew and Michael Parsons in the Scratch Orchestra, later forming a group in New Zealand working along similar lines, From Scratch. A long-standing interest in stones and the musical possibilities they offer led him to incorporate their sound in much of his work. In 2013 he created a video and sound installation entitled The fate of things to come - a conversation with stones featuring footage of pebbles invited to sound in different ways (below).
Percussionist Terje Isungset (b.1964) uses a range of materials from the natural world to create musical sound worlds. Having become known internationally for his Ice Music he has also for many years employed stone in his performances, particularly granite and slate. This can be heard in particular on his album 'Essence of stone', Volume 1 of the series 'Suites of Nature'.
At the Alameda dos Oceanos, near the Macau Pavilion is the Jardim da musica, a musical playground includes a lithophone.
'The Sound of Stone' has been a collaboration between sculptor Alenka Vidrgar and the Slovene Percussion Project with the work being exhibited and performed in Štanjel, Slovenia. As well as creating compositions for performances there is also an interactive element to their work with visitors invited to explore the sound of the stone sculptures. www.stop-projekt.com
In the late 1990s a number of Swiss musicians and academics working in Zurich, including Dominik Dolega, Matthias Brodbrick and Felix Perret began experimenting with different approaches to using stone as a medium in sound-making. Working with instrument builders Rudolf Fritsche, Lukas Rohner and Beat Weyereth they created a series of lithophones which they went on to use in The Stone Orchestra (pictures below) and later with The Stone Alphabet combining the performance of specially composed pieces with improvisation.
UGANDA / UK
In 2006 London Sinfonietta commissioned composer Nigel Osborne (b.1948) to write piece for musicians from the orchestra, plus five Ugandan musicians along with the sound of granite rock gongs on Lolui Island on Lake Victoria, Uganda (below). Since then Osborne has taken his interest in ringing rocks further with a piece entitle Tiree, inspired by the ringing stone on the island of that name in the Inner Hebrides.
Composer Cornelius Cardew (1935-1981) incorporated the playing of small stones in his major piece The Great Learning.
Rob Mackay studied music and geology and has combined these two interests in compositions which transform the sound of stone electronically. His piece Song of Stones is based on the changes in the sonorous quality of rock originating in different parts of northern England, from west to east.
In 2010 two newly built lithophones were unveiled in Coniston, Cumbria at Brantwood the former home of writer and critic John Ruskin. One, a four-octave chromatic instrument was designed and built by Marcus De Mowbray using different types of rock from the Lake District region. The instrument was played at the unveiling by Dame Evelyn Glennie (below).
The other, developed and designed by Dr Kia C.Ng from the University of Leeds, is an innovative interactive instrument with sensors linking it to computer software which expands the aural possibilities and can also trigger visual imagery on a display screen (below).
Jay Harrison is an audio researcher, producer and technologist currently undertaking PhD research at the University of York. In 2015 for his dissertation on the BSc Creative Music Technology course at Staffordshire University he produced an Electromechanical Lithophone using specially selected Welsh green slate. Whilst it was designed to be interactive, with members of the public invited to play it using a keyboard, it has also been programmed to play with no human intervention in a surround sound configuration. Public appearances have included an installation at the 2015 Cheltenham Music Festival (below).
The Roof Slate Ensemble was founded by Mike Adcock along with members of the Cheltenham Improvisers Orchestra. Their repertoire features specially composed pieces in addition to a strong element of improvisation, all played on pieces of recycled Ffestiniog Blue slate from north Wales which have been tuned to a pentatonic scale across three octaves.es.
Heather Barringer is a percussionist with contemporary music ensemble Zeitgeist, based in St Paul, Minnesota. Alongside the usual array of percussion instruments employed in performance she has used sonorous stones “gathered from the shores of Lake Superior”. The Schubert Club in St Paul possesses a replica of an ancient Vietnamese lithophone.
Composer John Francois Charles has built a lithophone made of agate. www.jeanfrancoischarles.com
Jim Doble from Maine builds what he calls stonaphones from recycled slate roofing, selling them via his website under the brand name Elemental Design. They vary in size, the largest, three-octave chromatic version over two metres long (below right). Jim also uses other materials for his stonaphones including black granite and soapstone. The Mongo Stonaphone (below left) was made for The National Children's Museum in Jordan.
Tom Kaufmann describes himself as an "instrument builder and edutainer". A performing musician himself, he runs Tinkertunes in Traverse City Michigan, offering a range of music related services, from furniture produced from recycled pianos to a music information service and a selection of original instruments. These include a number of lithophones such as the one below made from granite and in use in the Children's Garden of a public library. www.tinkertunes.com/lithophones
Scott C. Miller from St Louis, Missouri, runs a small business called the Bone Dry Musical Instrument Company making musical bones used particularly in traditional music. As well as using bone, wood and plastic, he also uses a variety of different types of slate, which produce a distinctive sound and are, according to Scott Miller, surprisingly durable.
Composer Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) wrote Rock Piece in 1979 which required participants to choose two resonant rocks and proceed to play a steady pulse striving to keep it independent of what others are playing, possibly moving from outdoors to indoors or vice versa.
Sculptor Jonathan Shor designed a musical fence (pictured below)made from granite for Quark Park, “a provocative collaboration of science, art and architecture” temporarily part of the landscape in Princeton, New Jersey. www.jonathanshor.com
Christian Wolff (b.1934) has written an instruction piece called Stones (1968) which is very open-ended and improvisatory, the stipulations being that performers should play 'for the most part discretely..sometimes in rapid sequence' and 'for the most part striking stones with stones' though other approaches may be taken. The final instruction is not to break anything. The piece is still performed and in 2018 an album was released on E42.A8, available on Bandcamp featuring a range of invited participants (including your host) giving their interpretations of the piece