The Masters of Heavy Rock was the title of a bedroom wall poster taking pride of place in my brother’s bedroom ©1975. It featured, arguably the greatest rock Gods of all, Led Zeppelin. They were, however, just part of a much longer tradition. A much longer tradition than even they could ever have imagined. Riffing off Radio 4’s Book of the Week, The Musical Human by Michael Spitzer, I was fascinated by the mention of a ‘rock gong’ in episode 1. It conjured images of the great John Bonham at his kit, framed from behind by an enormous gong.
Michael Spitzer’s book is an extraordinary historical, natural and anthropological study of our relationship with music. It spans history and pre-history and confirms the fundamental principle that we are all innately musical, the founding principle on which MindHarp was created. As an eminent academic, musicologist and Beethoven expert I have a lot of respect for Mr Spitzer in stating that our vital connection with music was drastically eroded by (1) The invention of written or notated music and (2) the invention of recorded music. These two seismic events turned us into consumers, rather than active participants in music making. And it is in the spirit of reversing this very recent event that the MindHarp was created: To enable non-musicians to actively engage with music.
But let’s get back to the rock gong. Unsurprisingly, rock gongs were not a phenomenon of 1970s heavy rock. Rock gongs are neolithic instruments identified in the 1950s by archaeologists and anthropologists. They are also known as ‘lithophones’, a slab of rock hit like a drum and often in proximity to cave paintings. Some are huge, weighing up to several tons and almost always solid. They create a metallic, bell-like resonance when played with a hand-held stone. It is thought that they were also played as an ensemble and with many tuned depressions on the surface, continuous playing producing smooth indentations in the rock.
Would John Bonham have approved? I’m sure of it. Would he have had one of his own? I’m convinced of it.
This is great film where you can see them and hear them on an island in Lake Victoria (…although I think the fusion of trombone and Ugandan music is a mistake!).