HEAVY metal usually means a lot of racket, but not here. Across the 30 or so rolling acres of his farm in southwestern Tuscany, the German sculptor and musician Paul Fuchs, 74, cultivates the Giardino dei Suoni, his Garden of Sounds. Weighing tons, his spindly abstractions of steel and bronze — "The Long I," "Cut Out," "0 + 1" — inscribe the landscape like quick strokes and squiggles of some titan's pen. Rising as high as 100 feet they catch movement in the air and give forth vibrations that verge on silence: the gentlest of music. One, "Visit From the Extraterrestrial," tolls like a buoy on the churning sea.
"What I want is to make heavy things light," Mr. Fuchs said recently from Tuscany, where I visited him last year, and where he was now readying himself for the summer's stream of pilgrims in search of musical mystery. "That in turn makes my life difficult."
Trained as a blacksmith, then as an artist, Mr. Fuchs has evolved into a musician by inner necessity, without any formal training.
"The rhythm of the hammer on iron, the sheer physical work, was always music to me," he said. "Without the right flow you strike the metal on the anvil, and nothing happens."
Apart from the principal dwelling, a stable for the horses and a workshop that sometimes doubles as a gallery, his Tuscan compound has a barn packed with an astonishment of instruments: a thunder sheet here; a suspended assemblage of hollowed-out wooden blocks there; assorted bells, whisks and sticks. There are motorized sound generators too, one outfitted with heavy-duty rubber boots. Mr. Fuchs likes to move among all these at an unhurried pace, spinning out his exotic, hushed yet earthy toccatas.
He plays every few days for his own enjoyment. Private tours of the grounds, conducted for groups of eight or more (by reservation only, at [email protected]), feature performances too. There are also public performances at other locations.
"As a little boy," Mr. Fuchs said, "I wanted to learn the violin, but my hands weren't built for that. Working with metal, I could never mold them to conventional instruments. I made trumpets for other musicians and also horns of copper, wood and bronze that I could blow myself: simple sculptural tubes and cones that made amazing sounds. I still play them. And I made percussion and string instruments in the same style.
"I never copied things that already existed. The instruments were never Indian or Turkish or European. I never cared about playing the overture of some opera. I wanted my breath to open out into sound."
Before his move to Tuscany three decades ago, Mr. Fuchs and his first wife, the vocalist Limpe Fuchs, toured Europe in a tractor-drawn trailer, with two boys and a sheep, improvising on a battery of instruments of their own making. If Wagner could dream up a Wagner tuba, why shouldn't there be Fuchs horns, a Fuchs bass, a Fuchs harp?
Originally developed at the request of a music therapist, the spooky ballastsaiten (weighted strings) quickly became an integral part of the Fuchs paraphernalia. It consists of strings, attached weights and a drum head that resonates when the strings are brushed or plucked. Mr. Fuchs has also developed a sort of caveman's xylophone of carefully selected granite plates.
He and Limpe Fuchs, who describes herself as a composer of acoustic and visual events, went their separate ways long ago, musically and personally. Their son Zoro Babel, a percussionist, still performs with both parents and with other musical adventurers, like Markus Stockhausen, son of the German composer, visionary and crackpot Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Mr. Fuchs's second wife, Gaby, is a carpenter, and together they have three children, all of whom have flown the nest. A woman of many talents, she whips up a rustic plate of pasta garnished with herbs and tomatoes from her garden, converts tracks from vinyl LPs long out of print into handy MP3 files and attends to business correspondence. The Fuchses seldom leave the property now, and their appetite for modern conveniences is selective. They pump their water by hand.
Over the years Mr. Fuchs has captivated musicians across a wide spectrum. An early collaborator was the Austrian star pianist Friedrich Gulda, who died in 2000 at the age of 69. A great original of his generation, Gulda was constantly at pains to upset the apple cart of routine. His complete Beethoven sonatas, recorded when he was 20, caused a sensation. Later he immersed himself in jazz, appearing at Birdland and recording with Herbie Hancock. Yet Mr. Fuchs recalls their four-year association in the early '70s with undisguised ambivalence.
"Gulda was an excellent pianist, with incredible vitality," he said. "We had wonderful experiences together. But he was a star, a virtuoso, and he could never let go of that. I could never hear much of my music in what he did. I felt I had to protect it."
The commentator Norbert Ely, himself a composer, spoke of Limpe and Paul's music as "folklore from no man's land, music for everyone, music that might spring straight from the earth anyplace in the world at all."
So it seems right, somehow, that Mr. Fuchs in time achieved a deeper harmony with the American Indian flutist R. Carlos Nakai. The two met more or less by chance near Woodstock, N.Y., in 1981, during a workshop of the Creative Music Studio, an organization at the crossroads of jazz and world music. They stayed in touch, and in 1988 Mr. Fuchs invited Mr. Nakai along on a tour of West Germany.
"What many native people in the Americas do when they meet for the first time," Mr. Nakai said recently from Salt Lake City, where he was on tour, "is to ask, 'Who are you?' It's not the standard business-card approach. It's not 'Who do you work for?' but 'How are you related to your own people, what's your ancestry, your heritage?' That leads you to differences and similarities of how we belong together as multicultural beings. No one belongs to just one heritage.
"Paul intrigued me. I listened to the sounds he made and thought: 'This is really special. I have to work with this person.' "
Pamela Hyde-Nakai, Mr. Nakai's wife, remembers the amazing logistics of the tour.
"We traveled with a flatbed truck, with all this stuff on the back, and every time we had to perform, Paul had to lug it all off," she said. "It was big and heavy. It was the most cumbersome way to put on a show I'd ever seen. It was quite the adventure, let me say that. And the sounds were wonderful."
Did they start from scratch every time or develop a playlist of themes and patterns they embroidered on? Both approaches came into play, Mr. Nakai said, but in the end "most of our appearances were entirely of the moment." Recordings exist but are hard to find. And truthfully, you probably had to be there.
For Mr. Fuchs a collaborator's musical pedigree on is on one level completely unimportant.
"The only people who can be partners for me are people who think beyond music," he said. "Nakai chanted along with us, and that matched very well. It's a question of the character of the music. These days I work a lot with Hariolf Schlichtig, the violist of the Cherubini String Quartet and a professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich. It's very different of course. But Hariolf is able to let himself fall into improvising around the material I make sounds of."
In a recent e-mail from Germany, Mr. Schlichtig acknowledged the challenge of working with Mr. Fuchs.
"Of course Paul isn't a formally trained musician, but he's a natural, a primal musician," he wrote. "A visual art like sculpture has the same or similar laws and principles as music, and with Paul you feel that very well. Working with him, I had first of all to get rid of my 'classical patterns' so as to be free for music that is all mine. So we just plunged in, listened to tapes of what we had done and then talked about what worked and what didn't, figuring out how our ideas correspond, contradict or complement each other.
"In our work it's crucial to listen. Humor plays an important part too, and spontaneous inspiration is the source of further development."
Is it music? In calling his sculpture park a garden of sounds, Mr. Fuchs implicitly raises the question. Before the pieces came to rest in the Tuscan hills, many who saw them liked to say that they resembled cryptic musical notation. Mr. Fuchs shrugs off such fancies.
"Sound is something fundamental," he said. "Someone who works with sound is an artist in sound. A musician is someone who takes sounds — sounds of a scale or sounds free from a scale — and fuses them with spirit and heart's blood. That's what it is to make music.
"Paul Gulda, Friedrich's son and a concert pianist and improviser in his own right, has asked me if I'm a musician, and I answered: 'Not the way you are. I don't have 24 keys in my pocket and all the harmonies that go with them. But I make music, and you make music too.'
"Am I a musician or a sound artist? Really, I don't care."