The Original Rock Music: Stones That Sing!

The Musical Stones of Skiddaw.

On display at the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery in Cumbria, England is a unique musical instrument that looks like a xylophone - but instead of metal or wood, the notes are made from stones! This is the Musical Stones of Skiddaw [wiki], a type of lithophone [wiki] (music instrument made of rocks and stones) created by Joseph Richardson in 1840.

Selecting and shaping the stones for their musical properties turned out to be quite a task. Richardson spent 13 years (many of which in abject poverty) to collect and shape individual stones around Keswick to create a musical instrument with an eight-octave range.


Richardson and sons, with their musical rock.

Richardson went on to create the first rock band in history: Richardson & Sons, Rock, Bell and Steel Band, which even played for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at the Buckingham Palace in 1848!

There's even a video clip of the famous Musical Stones in concert:






YouTube Link

Ringing Rocks: Rocks That Ring Like a Bell.

In Ringing Rocks Park [wiki] near Bridgeton, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, there are curious boulders that ring like a bell when struck with a hammer!






YouTube Link

Apparently, on any given day, you'd see fellow hikers trudging toward the boulder field with hammers in hand! I wonder if you can play Jingle Bell Rock there ...

Gong Rock of the Serengeti

In the Serengeti plains of Kenya Tanzania, there is a large boulder called the Gong Rock that reverberates when hit with a small rock. The pitted surface of the Gong Rock is testament to its use by the Maasai tribe to send sound messages across the vast distance of the African savannah since ancient times.

The Great Stalacpipe Organ

The Luray Caverns [official website | wiki] in Virginia is famous for having the world's largest musical instrument: stalactites of varying sizes that can be played with rubber-tipped mallets attached to solenoids (and connected to an organ console).


Organ and Chimes - Caverns of Luray, Va. 1906 postcard

The Great Stalacpipe Organ [wiki] was created in the 1950s by Leland W. Sprinkle. Supposedly, he got the idea when his son Robert struck his head on a stalactite, producing a musical tone! Sprinkle spent over 3 years finding and shaving stalactites to produce specific notes - all in all, the stalactites he chose are distributed over 3.5 acres of the caverns.

On tours, you even get to hear it play:






YouTube Link

Pyeongyeong and Bianqing

The Pyeongyeong is a rare musical instrument from the ancient Korea circa 1100 AD, consisting of 16 L-shaped jade-stone slab hanging from a wooden frame (resting on two white geese!). The tone varies depending on the thickness of the slabs.


Bianqing photo from Chinese University of Hong Kong

The pyeongyeong was actually derived from an even older Chinese version called the bianqing. The oldest bianqing was excavated from the ruins of the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1776 BC - 1050 BC) and was made from smooth stones with intricate carvings.

Stone Marimbas

Will Menter in North Wales built a marimba with sound bars made from slate. It must have been a good idea, because Jim Doble of Elemental Design in Maine also built one!


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The luray caverns organ is not the worlds largest musical instrument, its far from it. The worlds largest musical instrument is the Atlantic City Convention Hall organ, it has over 33,000 pipes, over 1,200 stops and 7 keyboards. It is 10 time the size of the average church organ and it is configured in a surround sound design with pipes spread over the huge room which measures 500ft wide and 300ft wide and 137ft tall. Its website is www.acchos.org
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Thanks Anita. If you want to hear more recordings of songs played on the Musical Stones (including a faster one) then you can visit www.myspace.com/musicalstones. A 9 track CD is also available. You can contact me through the Myspace if you are interested. All the best, Jamie, Keswick Museum.
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Sigur Ros also use a 'xylophone' made out of shale (i think) that was used in a performance called 'Odin's raven magic'
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxAAXblqtrc

this was shown in part in a documentary on icelandic music called 'screaming masterpiece
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