From Mud to Music

Explore the rich culture of ceramic musical instruments and the wide variety of instruments being made today. Barry Hall discusses the...(Scroll for more.)


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Softcover and CD | 259 Pages

Order code B030 | ISBN 978-1-57498-349-4

…history of clay instruments; clay instrument types, including percussive, wind, string and hybrids; technology issues dealing with clay as a medium for instruments; and five step-by-step projects for making selected instruments. In addition to examples throughout, Hall includes a gallery of profiles of contemporary artists and their work along with an audio CD with 43 musical examples of instruments played by their creators.

An incredible journey

With a history reaching back to ancient times, creating ceramic musical instruments is a vibrant pursuit for many innovative artists today. From Mud to Music explores the vast array of ceramic musical instruments, from their historical traditions in world cultures to modern variations and innovations. All instrument families are represented: percussion, winds, strings, and even unique hybrids. For each type of instrument, special construction techniques specific to clay are explained. In addition, there’s a chapter providing detailed, step-by-step instructions showing how to build several ceramic instruments. Hundreds of color photos present the work of artists from around the world spanning the last 3000 years, from ancient Peruvian water whistles and Mesopotamian rattles to contemporary seven-chambered ocarinas and ceramic bagpipes. Whether you are a musician, ceramist, or just a fan of art and music, you are invited to embark on an incredible journey…from mud to music!

Listen to musical samples

From Mud to Music includes a CD of music performed on clay instruments featured in the book. So you not only get the opportunity to see the variety of shapes of these clay instruments, you get to hear them in action.

Cellular Activation – Rafael Bejarano Performed on a huaca and ehecatl built by Rafael Berjarano.

Clay Shaker and Claypans – N. Scott Robinson Performed on a clay shaker and Claypans built by Stephen Wright.

Neolithic Fanfare – Barry Hall Performed on ceramic horns built by Barry Hall.

Nutcracker Suite – Geert Jacobs Performed on a ceramic barrel organ built by Geert Jacobs.

Earth – Joe O’Donnell Performed on a clay violin built by John Stevens.

Gravity Chime – Ward Hartenstein Performed on the Gravity Chime built by Ward Hartenstein

The purest expression of the human spirit

Some potters find their voice in the clay; sometimes the clay gives voice to the music within. Very often, we cannot fully control what comes to life on the wheel. Many times, the clay will tell us what it should be, how it should form. We are partners in the process, not the masters. We must incorporate our vision of what the clay can become with what it wants to be. We hear its music, and when we’re lucky, we can bring that music to life in form, shape, and sound.

The primal voice of ancient civilizations lies within its musical instruments. All we need do to unlock a link to the past is draw breath, draw back a bow, raise a mallet or a hand—and the sounds of the past come rushing across the great span of history, spilling into our consciousness. It is truly a remarkable experience to hear the sound of ancient instruments that last sounded thousands of years ago. The people may be gone, the civilization shattered for whatever reason. But we can travel back in time, hear the sounds they heard, by listening to (or even playing!) musical instruments of their time.

Be connected to the earth

Few of us will ever have the honor of playing an authentic instrument from an ancient culture. But we can explore our connection to cultures of ancient ages, hear the music of their time played on instruments of our own making—instruments made from the very same material: clay. We are all connected to the earth. We come from the earth, and ultimately return to it. How poetic, then, that clay—a basic raw material—can take shape to form one of the most complex of human expressions: music. From Mud to Music takes us on a journey from raw material to finished form, a journey that spans and transcends time and space, bringing us to a new understanding of the power of music, and primal force of clay.

“The most exciting pottery book to come along in years.” – Sumi von Dassow, Pottery Making Illustrated


A timeless tune

Ancient civilizations call to us across time: “Listen to my story. Hear the sounds of my life.” In a way, we can do that. We can make instruments of our own from clay. In some cases, we will emulate what has come before us; after all, there are many lessons to be learned from those who have come before us. And in this case, we are reaching back in time to the potters and musicians who walked the earth long ago.

No matter the instrument, whether it’s sounded by breath, beating, strumming or striking, when we create in clay, we make an inherent if not intentional connection with the past. The sound of ages resonates in the very particles of the clay. And so, even when new instruments emerge from artists’ studios—fanciful creations with no apparent connection to the past—we know that connection exists by the very nature of the instrument’s making.

What’s in this book

  • History: Put these instruments of the earth into context as we look at what civilizations of the past had to offer.
  • Classification: To appreciate the range of musical instruments in this book, you’ll want to understand the categories into which we can divide them.
  • Idiophones: Sonorous objects—instruments whose bodies vibrate to create sound, including such instruments as bowls, bells, bars, gongs, and plates.
  • Membranophones: Skinned drums—instruments with vibrating stretched membranes, such as vessel drums, goblet drums, frame drums, and tubular drums.
  • Aerophones: Wind instruments—instruments that enclose a vibrating body of air, ranging from familiar ocarinas and flutes to water whistles and even a ceramic barrel organ.
  • Chordophones: String instruments—instruments with vibrating strings, such as banjos and violins.
  • Hybrids: These are imaginative combinations of two or more of the categories listed above. The sights and sounds of these instruments will inspire and amaze you!

Beautiful to see, ethereal to hear

From Mud to Music includes a CD with 43 tracks of music, all performed on clay musical instruments featured in the book. So you not only get the opportunity to see the variety of shapes of these clay instruments, you get to hear them in action. Imagine: Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” on ocarina—well, actually—ocarina ensemble. Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” on a ceramic organ. But those are just familiar pieces played on instruments you’ve most likely seen or heard before.

What about the others? Imagine the sounds of…

  • DNA Huaca by Rafael Bejarano: Rafael’s huaca is a three-chambered ocarina with F# and C# set as the fundamental tones. Why? Because biologists measuring the frequency of human DNA found that our cells resonate at those notes.
  • Ceramic Didjeridu by Barry Hall: Musician Stephen Kent brings the ancient sound of the Aborigines into a contemporary context.
  • Triple Pipe by Susan Rawcliffe: Three pipes merge into a single mouthpiece, giving the player a variety of voices.
  • Naggara Drums by Ken Lovelett: Foot-operated bellows alter the pitch of five ceramic drum heads.
  • Jaltarang by Stephen Freedman: 26 porcelain bowls arranged in a seven-foot circle.
  • Bassoon Drum by Dag SØrensen: A clay interpretation of a road pipe
“Just Fabulous! Wonderful photos, MANY wonderful photos. The making demos, maker profiles, the CD are all more than I could have imagined.” – Karen D. from Missouri

Timeline of clay

From Mud to Music is about our connection with the past and the earth, and the way music and art can reach around the world and across time to leave an indelible mark on our cultures and our lives. The book will take you on a journey through time, looking at instruments both ancient and modern, instruments of many types and from many cultures. As with any venture in clay, an understanding of the fundamentals of ceramics is critical to musical success. You’ll meet some of today’s foremost ceramic instrument makers and learn some of their techniques.

Servants of sound

Meet the artists who hear the sound in the clay, who heed the inspiration of sound and create instruments that link us to our past or fantastic, wild contraptions that almost defy description. The book closes with step-by-step demonstrations of how to make several clay instruments. Try your hand at making your own instrument, or at least develop a deeper appreciation of the skill and artistry inherent in instruments made of clay. You don’t need to be a musician or a ceramic artist to appreciate the primal connection between earth and instrument.

You only need an appreciation of the beauty inherent in clay, and to understand that clay instruments make a seamless connection between past and present. Stroll through the gallery in this book, and you’ll see the past, present, and future come together, as today’s artists show you their passion for creating vessels that make music:

  • Dumbec by Jason Gaddy of Rochester, Washington
  • Three Women Water Whistle by Janet Moniot of Petal, Mississippi
  • Mouth Organ by Marie Picard of Marguerites, France
  • Beer Mug Horns by Don Bendel of Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Double Nest of Hooters by Brian Ransom of St. Petersburg, Florida
  • Harmonic Flute by Susan Rawcliffe of San Pedro, California
  • Anatomical Ideophones by Emily Resnick of Houston, Texas
  • Clay Marimba by Ward Hartenstein of Rochester, New York
  • Ocarinas by Barry Jennings of London, England
  • Abang Grande Drum by Frank Giorgini of Freehold, New York
  • Clay Pot Drums by Barry Hall of Westborough, Massachusetts

Making music personal

When you’ve had time to absorb some of the wonder of these fanciful instruments, get ready to meet their makers. From Mud to Music includes a profile section where you can meet the artists:

  • Frank Giorgini
  • Ward Hartenstein
  • Brian Ransom
  • Robin Hodgkinson
  • Geert Jacobs
  • Ragnar Naess
  • Winnie Owens-Hart
  • Susan Rawcliffe
  • Richard and Sandi Schmidt
  • Aguinaldo Da Silva
  • Sharon Rowell
  • Dag Sorensen
  • Stephen Wright

Step-by-step projects

Once you’ve seen all that is possible, perused the gallery of instruments, and met many of the artists, it’s time to get ready to make your own music. We include demonstrations of how to make several different instruments:

  • Side-hole pot drum a skinless clay drum, or “udu” drum
  • Ocarina a basic globular flute, with or without finger holes
  • Goblet drum a doumbek-type drum with a goat skin head
  • Side-blown flute a transverse tubular flute
  • Whistle flute an end-blown ducted, or recorder-style flute
“A lot of musicians have a relationship with their instruments where they are trying to draw out the best sound. Understanding the materials that go into the instruments makes a huge difference.” –Barry Hall, Author, From Mud to Music
“Author Barry Hall, who builds and plays a variety of ceramic instruments, exhaustively explores the marriage between the science of musicology and the art of pottery. In fact, the really exciting thing about this book is that you could easily design a beginning pottery class around making clay instruments instead of food dishes, and many students might find the effort more satisfying.” – Sumi von Dassow, Book Reviewer

You get step-by-step illustrated instructions on constructing these beautiful instruments. Try your hand at bringing your own music from the earth with one of these projects! They’re included in From Mud to Music. Clay is our connection to the past, our direct line back through time. Music from clay instruments evokes sounds of the past as they resonate with us in the present. The connection of music and art, earth and clay, history and future is enduring and undeniable. Celebrate our connection to earth and clay, music and imagination.


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