Sounds

Skiddaw Stones

by Soniccouture

The Skiddaw Stones are probably the most unusual and certainly the oldest instrument that Soniccouture has sampled. A Lithophone (litho=stone, phone=voice) dating from 1840, the Skiddaw Stones are composed of 61 tuned and shaped rocks made from the rare hornfels stone, found in Cumbria, England.

In-depth

The Skiddaw Stones are probably the most unusual and certainly the oldest instrument that Soniccouture has sampled. A Lithophone (litho=stone, phone=voice) dating from 1840, the Skiddaw Stones are composed of 61 tuned and shaped rocks made from the rare hornfels stone, found in Cumbria, England. Hornfels is said to have a superior tone and a longer ring than the more commonly used slate.

It took their creator, Joseph Richardson, a stonemason and musician, almost thirteen years to collect and shape enough individual notes of hornfels to make an eight-octave range. The task of assembling this instrument consumed Joseph so absolutely that he and his family were reduced to poverty. When the instrument was completed, Richardson and his sons toured Europe as The Rock, Bell and Steel Band, and even performed at Buckingham Palace by command of Queen Victoria.

The Skiddaw Stones currently reside at the Keswick Museum, who very kindly agreed to let us take them off site, to a studio, for the recording. As the stones are insured for £350,000, this was no casual undertaking. At the studio, two sets of mallets were used to laboriously capture large sets of velocity hits, then an extra articulation was recorded--the sound of the head of the wooden mallet being scraped across the stone surface, a surprisingly haunting and resonant sound. The result is an absolutely bewitching instrument, one that sounds truly ancient, even older than it is. Totally unique rock music.

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