I can't figure out why Pinuccio Sciola isn't a well-known name. If you find inspiration in organic sculpture, interactive installations, material exploration, or unusual musicality, his work likely offers something to learn from.
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Sciola was an innovative and prolific Italian sculptor who passed away this March at the age of 74. He is best known for his mind-bending series of "sound stones": carefully sculpted rocks that produce eerie music when touched correctly.
Some sound stones were behemoth boulders, others would fit into a lap. Out in their environment they look like ancient wayfinding markers, or sacred alien symbols. To produce these odd musical instruments Sciola delicately cut and formed each rock to produce a range of tones based on its resonant frequency when rubbed and the depth or shape of his incisions. His sculptures required great insight into different stones' material qualities, harmonics, and the methods needed to unleash them.
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The result is a lot like a glass harmonium, or rubbing the lip of a wine glass, where the player adds friction across solid objects "tuned" to different notes based on their size and density. The music itself is often haunting. At times the sounds produced can sound like other instruments - horns, woodwinds, synthesizers, voice, and more experimental tools all come to mind - but they rarely sound like what you'd expect from a hunk of granite.
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The Sciola Museum and its enormous "sound garden" are a great regional attraction, and his exhibition list is exhausting to look at. But despite a long and beloved career, there are surprisingly few English language sources on his biography and works. Aside from Google Translate, some of the most illuminating information comes from YouTube.
This short artsy documentary follows the sourcing and installation of an enormous sound stone, and allows some insight into how Sciola thinks of his materials (hint: he's just letting them tell their own stories).
Another shows more intimate footage of the artist playing his smaller creations while looking like a whimsical stony elf.
Though he is less well known outside of Italy, and less still outside of Europe, Sciola has inspired scores of musicians, composers, and sculptors to engage with his work and let it influence their own. Some, like Giacomo Monica below, play using tools like bows.
Most musicians connect using only hands or smaller stones, as Sciola often did.
No matter how they're played, each sculpture shows off its own surprising complexity and clarity, altogether shocking in an instrument made out of rock.