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Stone Harps

They are substantial objects, both as sculptures and instruments. They are hand-picked blocks of stone, imported from India for their superior material consistency, about 30 x 40 x 60 cm, with their tops cut at an angle. The blocks are polished and cut into eight or twelve slabs still joined at their base, like a loaf of ‘almost sliced’ bread where the bottom crust is left intact.

To play the stone harp one sits facing the shortest face of the block, with two bowls of water at left and right sides. One doesn’t pluck this harp but, rather, with wet fingers rubs its edges. The leaves, being free enough to vibrate, produce clear tones an octave below or above the D nearest to middle C. Since the top of the stone has been cut on an angle the leaves are each a different height and produce a different pitch. The thickness, however, also affects the pitch and since the cutting and tuning of the stone is not done with a luthier’s precision one doesn’t expect a defined scale of conventional notes, e.g., ‘Stone harp in B-flat.’ Some notes sound more easily than others, some are clearly higher or lower, and some pairs of notes may be so close that to elicit them at once produces beating, a throbbing tremolo on one perceived pitch. I found notes to be clustered either low or high, around 150 and 575 Hz. The low pitches had five quiet overtones though at times the 4th harmonic, two octaves higher, was louder than the fundamental pitch. The higher notes were completely pure. Practice, then, is key to learning the characteristics of each note on each instrument.

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