Celebrated electronic composer MICHAEL STEARNS has long been fascinated with Native American myths involving singing stones. On previous recordings, he designed synthesized sounds to bring the essence of these legends to life. In the early 1990s, however, Stearns came across an archeological paper that proved the existence of such phenomena. A number of ringing rocks had been discovered throughout the Southwest, usually at prolific petroglyph sites. It had just taken a while for scientists to think of hitting the decorated stones to see if they made musical sounds. When these granite boulders or rock ledges were finally struck with a smaller stone, they rang out with the clarity of a beautifully crafted chime. It wasn't hard to visualize prehistoric Native Americans creating a virtual symphony of tones as they pounded ceremonial images into the rocks.
Once he learned of their existence, Stearns couldn't wait to visit these magical places and hear the music for himself. Most locations, however, are kept secret in order to protect them from careless destruction. Though only one modern tribe has been found to play the stones as a part of their traditional rites, these sites are still considered sacred by the various Native American nations on whose land the sonic formations reside.
Despite these difficulties, Stearns dreamed of making an album involving the legendary stones, and he found an important ally in RON SUNSINGER, an adopted grandson of the Cheyenne, Lakota and Hopi tribes. The Albuquerque-based musician and ceremonial artist was not only able to get permission from tribal elders to record at several singing stone sites, he lent his own musical talents to the project and brought in some respected Native American singers as well. The results of their travels and collaborations are presented on Singing Stones, a haunting collection of 11 original compositions combining traditional Native American chants and flutes with natural ambiences, percussion, subtle synthesized atmospheres, sampled instruments, and, most importantly, the sounds of the stones themselves.
Singing Stones captures the beauty and the mystery of ringing rocks played with a variety of techniques. Sometimes Stearns and Sunsinger struck the stones with an elk antler or a small rock, other times they were slapped with the hand or even rubbed to create more subtle tones. There were, after all, no traditional procedures to guide the musicians. The tribes that originally gathered around to play the stones have long since disappeared. No one knows what strange and wonderful ceremonies took place at these sites or what kind of music the stones gave birth to in prehistoric times. Stearns and Sunsinger had to use their own seasoned musical imaginations to bring the ringing rocks back to life. Often, the sounds of the stones themselves seemed to direct the course of the composition, as if the earth itself were using modern hands to awaken songs that had been locked in solid granite since the beginning of time.