Silent Bells Ringing

In the liner notes for the first disc of “The Time of Bells”, Steven Feld writes: “In these compositions you’ll hear how bells sound the time of day, the time of prayer, the time of festival, the time of transhumance. You’ll hear how their temporality shapes space, changing ambience with the season, making distance and dimension. You’ll hear how they interact with other time and space-makers, from the sea, insects and birds, to cars, televisions, and musical instruments. Most of all you’ll hear how bells simultaneously sound a present and past, as their immediate resonance also rings the longue durée of their technological and social history.”

As contemporary technologies have largely replaced the bell, I’ve been inspired by Feld’s notion of “ringing their history” to explore how de-commissioned bells continue to sound long after their original utility wanes. The track below was recorded on Governors Island (a former military installation in New York harbor). I noticed a large US Coast Guard bell resting on a cement pad near a ferry landing. I attached contact microphones and listened to the bell ringing in response to its environment: human voices, the tiny bells of passing bicycles, leaves in the wind, and the rotors of a passing helicopter that seem to reach down and rattle the bronze.

This recording is part of my ongoing practice of “auscultation”: listening to the vibrations of objects and underwater environments, revealing hidden interiors like a doctor’s stethoscope probing the systems of the body. This helps me to consider my relationship to the more-than-human as I stretch my ears to practice other ways of listening, communicating, and inhabiting the world. See my other recordings and writings related to auscultation.