I had an inspiring and most enjoyable visit recently with Aurelio, director of the Svaram musical instruments workshop. The workshop is located in the town of Auroville in India’s state of Tamil Nadu. Auroville is an “ideal township devoted to an experiment in human unity,” an international community devoted to lifelong learning and spiritual awareness, founded in 1968 with the blessings of UNESCO and the Indian government. Aurelio, an Austrian by birth, arrived there 1985. Having long experience in creative instrument making, he began some projects which led to the formation of an instrument-making workshop in the community. He trained young workers from the region who in time coalesced into the workshop’s core group of craftspeople. They now make instruments of many sorts both traditional and original, and new designs are always in the making. There’s an emphasis on keeping the instruments approachable and making the music accessible to all.
Through the early years, the workshop survived in part through a series of grants from the community and other sources. Over time, it has become increasingly self-sufficient. While the workshop has always been driven by a spirit of creativity, Aurelio recognizes that it’s time to think increasingly in enterprising terms and project collaborations. To that end, they are developing product lines for both local and international markets, and are happy to enter constructive dialogues and take commissions.
A change of scene: some years ago the German pianist/composer Professor Klaus Fessmann of Mozarteum Salzburg, found himself moving beyond his classical training, seeking more organic musical forms. He was drawn to the idea of sounding stone. By cutting suitable types of stone to a particular comb-like form he found he could draw a clear tone from the stone with the friction of a moistened finger, creating an instrument he called Klangsteine, or Sound Stones. Visiting Auroville, he met Aurelio. Fortuitously, a particular type of granite local to Auroville proved to produce the best tone that Professor Fessmann had yet found for the Singing Stones. With the workshop and skilled workforce in place there, as well as the ideal stone, it was agreed that Auroville was the place for manufacturing the instrument. Hannes Fessmann, son of Klaus, visits regularly there to oversee the process and conduct new experiments. And so it is that if you now go to the Svaram website,you’ll find the singing stones among the instruments under development displayed there. You can also see and hear them at the Klangsteine web site (text in German).