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Rocking out

Rocking out

World-famous percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie will join scientists from the University of Leeds to launch a new 'rock' instrument in the heart of the Lake District this week.

The unusual instrument is a lithophone made up of 'ringing rocks' from the Cumbrian hills. It has been created to introduce children to geology and the landscape of the Lake District through music.  

The 49-key, four-octave lithophone was crafted by the Leeds team in collaboration with the Brantwood Trust, local schools and quarry companies as part of the Ruskin Rocks project. The rocks were selected by geologists, led by Professor Bruce Yardley, to illustrate the rich geological heritage of the Lake District. The project is funded by Natural England, through DEFRA's Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund.  

The official launch of the instrument, on Thursday 19 August, will see Dame Evelyn give a special demonstration to members of the public against the stunning backdrop of Coniston Water.  

The project also features a smaller one-octave iRock instrument which will use multimedia music technology to create interactive explanations of the geological properties of the rocks as they are played. These scientific and music technology explorations are led by Dr Kia Ng. 

Project coordinator, Bobbie Millar , also from the University of Leeds said: "This project is a great example of bringing together different disciplines to create something that is unusual, exciting and accessible. The exhibition at Brantwood is for families. It is designed to be fun and to make science, music and technology easy to understand."  

Dame Evelyn Glennie said: "This project links closely to many new and conceptual ideas. It seeks to unlock the potential of the fabric of our landscape to teach us not only about the past but also the future. It is right and proper that the natural curiosity of children is embraced and they will be able to embed their findings of both music and geology into the history books of tomorrow.  

"My personal hope is that many others will follow in our footsteps and add to this initial development of an interesting instrument thus unlocking the mysteries of these ancient rocks and landscape".  

The musical rock instruments will be available to be played by visitors of all ages after the launch. Brantwood will host the installation which will include a large rock instrument, interactive electronics and related interpretation materials in the Linton Workshop, a stone cottage adjacent to the main house with views over Coniston Water.   

Prisoners from Haverigg Prison at Millom in Cumbria have also helped with the construction of the frames for the rock instruments. Haverigg Prison has an established relationship with the Ruskin Foundation through a number of collaborative projects.  

The project is led by Bruce Yardley , Professor in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. Geologists with extensive knowledge of the Lake District are also taking part, as well as Dr Kia Ng (Director) and his team from the University of Leeds Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Research in Music (ICSRiM), instrument specialists and the staff at Brantwood.    

The launch event will take place at the Brantwood estate in Coniston from 14:00 to 17:00 on Thursday 19 August. The event is open to all members of the public and is free of charge. For more information, visit the Ruskin Rocks website.

Watch a video about the project

For further information:

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email

Notes to Editors

The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.

Based at the University of Leeds, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Scientific Research in Music (ICSRiM) provides a venue for research and development in the areas of creative human-computer interactions, gesture and multimodal interfaces, the analysis, synthesis and encoding of musical sound and applied music psychology. 

The project is funded by Natural England through Defra's Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) 2009-2011.  Natural England's ALSF Grant Scheme aims to support projects that provide benefits from aggregate extraction to local communities and reduce impacts on the natural environment. 

Brantwood is the former home of artist, writer and social theorist, John Ruskin. Open to the public all year, it receives around 30,000 visitors per annum. Brantwood is one of the most beautifully situated houses in England. The house is filled with many of John Ruskin's former possessions, paintings and treasures; it is also a vibrant centre for the arts and environment, hosting an array of historic and contemporary exhibitions, theatrical and musical performances, courses and study opportunities. There is a 250 acre estate with historic mountain and woodland gardens. Brantwood is owned and operated by an independent charitable trust.

Dame Evelyn Glennie is the first person in musical history to successfully create and sustain a full-time career as a solo percussionist. As one of the most eclectic and innovative musicians on the scene today she is constantly redefining the goals and expectations of percussion, and creating performances of such vitality that they almost constitute a new type of performance.  In 1993 Evelyn was awarded the OBE (Officer of the British Empire) for her services to music and education. This was extended in 2007 to 'Dame Commander', and to date has received over 80 international awards.

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