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Earth Xylophone

The first earth xylophone was made in 1991 for the second artists’ symposium in Reiskirchen-Ettinghausen, Germany. It was inspired by the oak beams to be found scattered all around the garden as well as intensive exploration of African music. In Africa, huge xylophones are sometimes used to protect the harvests in the fields. The music keeps the animals away while also keeping boredom at bay for those watching over the fields.

In the Amadinda Orchestra of Uganda and the Marimba Orchestra of Guatemala, it is always the custom for multiple musicians to play one instrument together. They dovetail their musical movement and use their eyes and ears to coordinate themselves.

The African way of playing this large xylophone requires a team of players to share the sound rods with one another, hence allowing patterns of movement to lead to a network of intertwining rhythms. No matter what the ability level of the participants, they can always find their own place to play and their own unique function with this type of game. The rules of play for this game are well suited for explanation to children.

The earth xylophone is 1.8 x 2.5 meters long; with its 12-16 rods, it allows sufficient room for 6-12 players. The portable version of the instrument can be placed on the ground or on a table (at standing height). It has no resounding body, can be dismantled quickly, is transportable and is easily stored. This makes it the optimal choice for mobile projects and small-scale events.

Its low material costs, stable robustness and ability to be played by ten people makes this the inevitable instrument of choice for use during project weeks with children and continuing educational programs for educators. The resonating body of the stationary earth xylophone is a wood-encased depression (approximately 2.5 x 4.5 meters), atop which the 12 rods are suspended on three meter-long beams. The players sit on the edge of the depression and can stretch out their legs under the xylophone to actually feel the vibrations of the instrument all the way up to their stomachs. Around 20 children can fit around this instrument and play on it together. In both setups, the situation is reminiscent of a table, both in terms of communication and how it looks.
The close arrangement of the sounding rods also makes the xylophone very conducive to use as a picnic table. The way the participants sit together so closely simplifies musical communication and discovery of well-suited musical games and of a general structure of rules for improvisation. The fact that the same playing space and musical motives are equally available to all participants encourages an easygoing exchange of rhythms, melodies, and patterns of movement while also preventing competition for more “important” or louder instruments. Interactive museums that make use of ten different types of xylophones and metallophones during the instrument-building project week are able to introduce participants to the evolution of this type of instrument and to encourage an interest in experimentation along with an introduction to the physics of sound. The children build simple, inexpensive model xylophones themselves out of roof shingles and take them home. The experience they gain in the museum and with building their own instruments is increased even more once they begin examining the construction of the larger earth xylophone.