You know what a geologist and Bon Jovi have in common? They’re both into rock! That was a joke from the geologist Bert in the hit US tv show The Big Bang Theory. That’s my unamusing attempt at setting up the mood for this YouTube video. Let’s get to it then as this mini-documentary video is absolutely cool.
The British Museum is in possession of a number of African rock gong slabs which gives off metallic sounds when struck with hand-sized pebbles. These rock gong slabs are a certain type of lithophone that were played for thousands of years in many parts of Africa. The archaeologist, Dr. Cornelia Kleinitz explains that she is trying to understand, along with her colleagues, the purpose of playing these rock gongs. Whether played for ritual activities, to signal something, or to make music, these rocks are amazing as their archaeological composition uniquely produces gong-like sounds. Dr. Kleinitz further reveals how each distinct marks on the rock faces imply that they were struck to produce sounds and what tones the players preferred as time evolves in that part of the world.
To gain a better understanding of the sounds the rock gongs produce, the British Museum invited Liam Willamson, an indie-rock drummer, to play the different pieces of rocks. The drummer has compared the rock gongs with a modern drum kit saying that the ancient pieces of rocks have their own distinct sounds and even have a natural xylophone formation. Williamson has applied his modern musical skills to produce fast-paced sound patterns that sound almost like a movie soundtrack.
If you want to discover more about African rock art, visit the British Museum website by clicking here.