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Lithophones make a comeback

AFP
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Two dozen stone chimes used by our prehistoric man will be played in public for the first time

‘Man’s first MP3’Paleomusicologist and lithopone specialist Erik Gonthier plays a prehistoric lithopone in Paris.Photo: AFP
‘Man’s first MP3’Paleomusicologist and lithopone specialist Erik Gonthier plays a prehistoric lithopone in Paris.Photo: AFP

Thousands of years after they resonated in caves, two dozen stone chimes used by our prehistoric forefathers will make music once more in a unique series of concerts in Paris.

Known as lithophones, the instruments have been dusted off from museum storage to be played in public for the first time to give modern Man an idea of his ancestral sounds.

After just three shows the precious stones will be packed away again, forever.

"That will be their last concert together," music archaeologist Erik Gonthier of the Natural History Museum in Paris, told AFP ahead of the production.

"We will never repeat it, for ethical reasons -- to avoid damaging our cultural heritage. We don't want to add to the wear of these instruments."

Dubbed "Paleomusique", the piece was written by classical composer Philippe Fenelon to showcase the mineral clang and echo of instruments from beyond recorded time.

They will be played xylophone-style by four percussionists from the French National Orchestra gently tapping the stones with mallets.

The instruments, carefully-crafted stone rods up to a metre (3.2 feet) in length, have been in the museum's collection since the early 20th century.

They have been dated to between 2500 and 8000 BC, a period known as the New Stone Age, characterised by human use of stone tools, pottery-making, the rise of farming and animal domestication.

For decades, their solid, oblong shape made experts believe they were pestles or grinders of grain.

Notes from stones

But that perception changed a decade ago, thanks to a stroke of fortune.

Gonthier, a former jeweller and stone-cutter, discovered their true, musical nature when he tapped one with a mallet in the storeroom of the museum in 1994.

Instead of a dull thud he heard musical potential, and decided to investigate further.

"These were Man's first MP3s," said Gonthier.AFP


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