Lithophone (Đàn Đá) – Special Sound of Vietnam’s Central Highlands

Rachel Tran
Rachel Tran | Published: February 4, 2020

Lithophone, called by locals as a stone gong, emerged asd a signature musical instrument of Vietnam’s Central Highlands thousands of years ago.

What is Lithophone in Vietnam?

Lithophone or Dan Da is also known as a percussion instrument made of stone. The name is applied to a specific instrument made of resonant stones that produces a ringing sound when hit…

The Vietnamese Lithophone is a set of stone slabs of different sizes and shapes fabricated through an elementary technique. These stones are available in the mountainous areas south of Central Vietnam and east of South Vietnam. 

How is Lithophone’s Sound Like?

Its sound is sometimes as deep as the forest but sometimes as gentle as the brook. Believe it or not, the sound of lithophone itself can express the instrumentalist’s feeling and their soul state as well.

History of Lithophone in Vietnam

Discovered by Georges Condominas – a French, in Dak Lak in 1949, Lithophone is an ancient musical instrument with 11 slabs of stone.

Later, four more Lithophone were discovered in Song Be and Khanh Hoa. It results from the researches that Lithophone existed between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago. At the end of the 1980s, 200 stone lithophone slabs had been discovered in Dak Lak, Khanh Hoa, Dong Nai, Ninh Thuan, Binh Phuoc, Lam Dong, and Phu Yen Provinces.

Each set is comprised of between three and 15 bars. The the oldest extant set, first discovered at Ndut Lieng Krak in Dak Lak Province in 1949, is now kept in a French museum. Most of the other sets are exhibited throughout Vietnam. They were quarried from a place nearby where the rock is made of petrified wood and were chipped and shaped to tune them to a perfect pentatonic scale. They can still be played, by hitting them with wooden mallets, to make a sort of hugely antique stone marimba.

For some ethnic groups in Tay Nguyen or Central highland, the stone slabs are sacred and preserved as family treasures played during grand ceremonies for the gods. For others, the stone slabs are used for setting up crop-protection devices.

Please once attentively listen to the sound of Vietnamese Lithophone and you will feel the resonant music – so special sound from this kind of instrument.

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