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Ready to Rock: Rock Gongs, Singing Stones, and Musical Minerals

Now through August 05, 2019

Miller Nichols Library, Ground Floor | Music/Media Library

In the 1950s, rock music caused a seismic shift in the musical landscape. But we're going to go a little further back, about 10,000 years.

No, we’re not talking about the stylings of ye ol’ The Rolling Stones. We talking about ROCK MUSIC : music made by, or inspired by, manifestations of minerals struck and scraped into crystalline chords for thousands of years of human ritual and entertainment.

In honor of the Richard L. Sutton, Jr. Geosciences Museum, we explore music with rocks—lithophones, ringing rocks, stone marimbas, rock gongs—and music inspired by the magnificent mineral manifestations of rocks, stones, landscape, ecology, formations, folk tales, gems and geology.

Lithophones: the Original Rock Band

Lithophones [lithos (rock) + phone (sound)] are in all parts of the world, dating back to nearly 10,000 years ago, from naturally occurring ringing rocks to decorated, multi-octave pitched marimbas and chimes.

Sonorous stones are found in Pennsylvania’s Ringing Rock Park or the boulder fields in Montana, but most are shaped by humans to enhance resonance and identify specific pitches. There’s even a theory that Stonehenge may have musical properties. John Cage (A Collection of Rocks), Pauline Oliveros (Sonic Meditations), and Christian Wolff (Stones) all explore the sonic possibilities of resonant rocks.

Finding ancient lithophones is the purview of archeologists, but creating lithophones is a fascinating challenge for musical instrument makers, sculptures and engineers. In fact, UMKC Conservatory alum Perry R. Cook created an “Augmented Lithophone” with sculptor Jonathan Shor in 2006 in Princeton, N.J.

Lithophones find specific forms in the Rock Harmonicon (invented by Joseph Richardson and used by the Till Family Rock Band in the 1880s), the Korean pyeon-gyeong, Vietnamese Dan Da, Chinese bianqing, German Steinspiel, and even the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Virginia. Icelandic avant-rock band Sigur Rós performed on a lithophone by sculptor Páll Guðmundsson in the DVD "Heima." Brian Dewan arranged the traditional hymn “Rock of Ages” for the Musical Stones of Skiddaw (available on Naxos).

Exploring the multifaceted world of rock music is like breaking open a geode – a cavern of glittering sounds, well met with a hammer and tuned ear.

Selected Resources from Our Collection:


Music and Instruments for Children to Make, John Hawkinson

The Tuning of the World, R. Murray Schafer

“Stones,” Christian Wolff. World Events: Perspectives on Verbal Notation, John Lely and James Saunders

“Sonic Meditations,” Pauline Oliveros. Source: Music of the Avant-garde

The Book of Music and Nature (e-book)


Unsuk Chin: Violin Concerto

Paul Simon: “I Am A Rock”, The Songs of Paul Simon

John Luther Adams: Tukiliit

John Cage: In A Landscape

Ferde Grofé: Grand Canyon Suite

Carl Orff: Antigone

James Mobberley: Of Hammered Gold

Felix Mendelssohn: Die Hebriden

Libby Larsen: Like blind men tapping in the dark 

Zheng Shao: Symphonic Poem No. 1: Poems on Stone Drums (dissertation)


George Balanchine’s  Jewels (DVD)

Mel Brooks’ History of the World, part 1 (DVD)

Jennifer Higdon, Cold Mountain (CD)

John Luther Adams, Strange and Sacred Noise (CD)

Unsuk Chin, Akrostichon-Wortspiel (CD)

Zhou Long, Tales from the Cave (CD)

Roy Hargrove, Diamond in the Rough (CD)

Jón Leifs: Hekla (CD)

The Cheiftains: Tears of Stone (CD)

Jewel: Pieces of You (CD)

Sade: Diamond Life (CD)

Alan Hovhaness: Hovhaness

Libby Larson, Dancing Solo (Naxos)

Brian Dewan, Ringing at the Speed of Prayer (Naxos)

Erkki-Sven Tüür, Illumintio (Naxos)

LP Covers from Marr Sound Archives:

Ferde Grofé: Grand Canyon Suite

New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band: Mountain Moving Day

Andreas Vollenweider: Caverna Magica

Youngboods: Rock Festival

Jón Leifs: Iceland Overture

John Denver: Rocky Mountain High

Mountain: Mountain Climbing!

Alan Hovhaness: Music by Alan Hovhaness

Posted: June 24, 2019