Ringing Stane


One of the earliest monuments from the era of prehistoric settlement in Upper Deeside is the Ringing Stane.

This ‘lithophone’ is nestled by the roadside near Richarkarie in Glen Gairn. It qualifies as a found instrument and makes a ringing sound when small stones are rolled down it. More famous examples of stone instruments are the rock gong on the Isle of Tiree and naturally tuned rocks and boulders found in Brittany, Nigeria, and South-east Asia, thought to be used in rituals or as summoning bells. Many of the examples found in Sweden are raised on blocks and frequently bear cup marks; they are traditionally known as älvkvarnar, elf-windmills.

The resonance of a lithophones depends on the rock – usually granite – being extremely compact and without any cracks.

There is another stone of the same name north of here, between the Hill of Johnston and Hill of Newleslie; this one is an upright that ‘rings’ when it is struck with a hammerstone – it is traditionally claimed that its tone can be heard in Portsoy, seven miles away.

These performative monuments belong to a culture whose survival depended on working stone. The rites associated with Neolithic music rest in the same symbolic order as conspectus stones which, happening to be where a view coheres, had the effect of confirming its significance as an index of the skyline. Found stones, as much as transported stones, mark the evolution of the mind upwards, downwards, and inwards. Rhythm in ‘musicking’ and placemarks in language were some of the ways our forebears could anchor meaning.

Stood by The Ringing Stane: a shout or cry would carry much further, so maybe the particular dull-tinkle the rock gave off mattered less than the fact that it sounded at all. ‘Across tens of millennia”, says Gary Tomlinson, ‘the “polysemy” of music allowed for ‘uncertainty and ambiguity’; the floating notes of stones spoke to a world of social sounds that would, in time, evolve into a language we can share.

Paul Devereux: Stone Age Soundtracks
Peter Gordon: 'Lochnagar: stoneballs', Chapter 9 of 'Deeside Tales: the stories of a small glen' in Hole Ousia

Cajsa S Lund: ‘
Early Ringing Stones in Scandinavia’, in Studia instrumentorum musicae popularis
Murdo Macdonald, from an essay accompanying an exhibition by
Jim Pattison, ‘Models of Mind’, 2012
John Purser: Scotland’s Music

Gary Tomlinson: A Million Years of Music

Adam Watson: The Place Names of Upper Deeside

Ringing Stane, John Smellie, 2016

Gathering was commissioned by Hauser & Wirth, for the Fife Arms Hotel, Braemar; the project was launched in 2015 and will conclude in 2018.

The artist residency at University of Aberdeen is funded by The Leverhulme Trust; the project was launched in July 2016 and will conclude May 2017.