The Time of Bells, 4
Soundscapes of Italy, Denmark, Finland, Japan, and USA/Iraq
Soundscape Compositions by Steven Feld
The first two volumes of The Time of Bells explored how church, animal, and ceremonial bells ring the time of day, season, ritual, festival, work, and social life in Italy, Greece, France, Finland, and Norway. Volume three took the project to Accra, Ghana, to discover bells as musical instruments ringing the time of traditional, contemporary, and pan-African diasporic styles. Volume four returns to Europe, with animal, church, musical, and sleigh bell selections from Italy, Denmark, and Finland. Additionally, the research expands into new geographic and symbolic terrain: the time of annual ritual bells in Japan, and the role bells play in heralding world peace in Japan, the USA, and Iraq.
1. Sardinian Tenores and Sheep Bells [7:49]
In February 2005 I went to Mamoiada, Sardinia for the famous carnival of Mamuthones, the dancers who wear animal skins and rows of bells weighing some seventy pounds. Mamoiada is also the home of Su Hussertu, a quartet of singers who perform canto a tenore, a unique polyphonic tradition whose repertory includes love and satirical poetry, political songs, some religious hymns to the Saints, and dance melodies.
Su Hussertu’s lead and solo voice, boche, is Mario Mameli, and the second voice, mesuboche, is Michele Canu. They sing in a high, tense, resonant style well known in the Mediterranean. The next voice, contra, is Bastiano Canu and the lowest voice, bassu, is Franco Congiu. These two lower voices sing with a unique timbre, at once brassy, raspy, and guttural.
Singing at home in Mario Mameli’s kitchen, Su Hussertu’s first song is Muttos, a typical Sardinian form of poetic improvisation about gorgeous women and ferocious bandits.Their second song, Ballu Andende, comes from a poem attributed to Raimondo Piras. The mix of sheep bells and voices reveals the sense of place felt when listening to canto a tenore in the bars or homes of a Sardinian shepherd community.
2. Sunday Bells of Venice [10:49]
In January 2004 I spent a damp and misty Sunday listening around the Piazza San Marco in Venice. I entered the plaza to the sounds of a Japanese tour group. Then, standing at the bar of a local cafe, I began to hear the city’s many church bells. In time, their rhythms and layered entries became musically connected to the voices, machines, cups and plates, and radio boom-box around me at the bar. The sensation reached its height with the ringing of the bells of the massive 325-foot San Marco tower, the tallest structure in the city, dating back ten centuries and most recently rebuilt in 1912. The tower’s five bells are the subject of considerable history and lore; the Nona chiming on the ninth hour, the Marangona chiming the beginning and end of the work day, the Maleficio announcing those condemned to death, the Trottiera and the bell of the Pregadi calling judges and senators to their seats. The power of the ringing of the hours yielded to a final poetic moment as I finished my tea: the passing of Sunday morning church-goers while Madonna sang ‘Like A Virgin’ over the cafe’s sound system.
3. Copenhagen Carillon [11:19]
Vor Frelsers Kirke (Church of Our Savior), is a distinctive Copenhagen landmark, well known for its 400-step twisted staircase tower and gilded globe spire. Equally a distinctive soundmark, it houses the first large concert carillon constructed in Scandanavia, built in 1928, and, after rust damage, rebuilt in 1981. The instrument consists of forty-eight bells with a range of four octaves.
I recorded the carillon in the rain from immediately across the street, as bikes, prams, buses, trucks, and walkers passed left to right and right to left in waves, splashing through puddles along the road. It was late October 2004; in the wet and cold atmosphere, the skies gray, alternately opening and closing, the carillon sounds particularly reverberant.
Carilloner Ulla Laage's program includes Etude by Gary White, the Prelude to Cello Suite number one in G by J.S. Bach, arranged by Albert Gerken, and a hymn from 1653, Dybt haelder året i sin gang, by Johann Crüger. A strike of hours and computer controlled automatic bell chime follow.
John Cage once asked if a truck going past a music school was more musical than a truck going past a factory. This piece asks a similar question. Do we hear a carillon become more musical-or less- by its interaction with environmental public sounds?
4. Arctic Circle Jingling [5:04]
Finnish bell maker Alvi Ruonala lives above the Arctic Circle in Lapland amidst deep forests and a multitude of lakes and streams. There he represents the end of the line of seven generations of legendary Northern bell-makers, specialized in techniques for handcrafting cowbells, sheep bells, reindeer bells, harness bells, ship's bells, and acoustically complex sleigh bells. Created from recordings made in May 2006, this composition joins the sounds of local Arctic circle forest creeks and lakes with their bird life, late spring winds and rains, the barks and bells of a home reindeer with her newborn, and a passing trio of Alvi Ruonala’s sleigh bells.
Dedicated to Helmi and Matti on their wedding day.
5. Joya-no-kane in Kyoto [11:53]
Chion-in Temple in Kyoto, Japan was established in 1234 and is the headquarters of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, with some 30 million followers. Atop a hill enclosure, the temple houses a massive 72-ton bell that is rung annually from about 10:40 pm on New Year’s eve until 12:30 am on New Year’s day. Over that time the bell is rung 108 times, to signal the 108 desires to be relinquished as the year turns. Cast in 1636, the bell hangs more than 10 feet high and 7 feet across, and is struck by a 14-foot horizontal pole. Thirty monks participate in the athletic ringing, 17 at a time.
On New Year’s Eve 2005-2006 I joined thousands of temple visitors to Chion-in. We walked slowly along the gravel listening path that begins at the bell’s rear, then moves to its side, and then its front area. Each pulse takes about a minute, from the sound of the strike and reverberant decay to the following quiet and then the swinging and chanting preparation for the next strike. In between strikes, guides with bullhorns urge the crowd to keep moving along the path.
BELLS FOR PEACE
After World War II, Chiyoji Nakagawa fabricated a peace bell from coins donated from the then 65 United Nations member nations. In 1954 the bell was presented as a gift to the UN from the people of Japan. A World Peace Bell Association was then formed in 1982 to present replica bells to the nations of the world. At present there are 21 peace bells in 17 countries. The bells ring on the first day of Spring and on September 21, the opening of the United Nations General Assembly and the International Day of Peace. Some bells additionally ring on August 6, Hiroshima day. The World Peace Bell Association has vigorously promoted bell ringing as a global symbol of hopes for world peace. To acknowledge this tradition, the International Community Foundation (www.icfdn.org), commissioned these peace bell recordings.
6. Iraq World Peace Bell, with Rahim AlHaj [10:04]
On September 21, 2004, the International Day of Peace, I was present in Newport, Kentucky to record the Millennium World Peace Bell. Weighing 66,000 pounds, with a 7 ton clapper, this is the largest swinging bell in the world. Moved as I was by the bell's awesome sound, the experience also left me perplexed. How was such an extraordinary symbol of world peace being heard and imagined in at-war America?
I felt a desire to ring the bell in Iraq, and took the challenge to collaborate to Rahim AlHaj, an Iraqi exile and oud master, whose Iraqi Music in a Time of War was the first VoxLox issue in 2003 (www.rahimalhaj.com). To begin, Rahim choose a significant Iraqi poetic statement from “Peace,” written in 1946 by Badr Shakr Al-Sayyab, founder of the modern Arabic poetry movement. He then improvised on oud to a track I prepared of the ringing bell,with treated overtones. For the musical setting we chose maqam hijaz, the Arabic harmonic minor. The piece closes with a sound from Rahim’s other great passion, keeping doves.
Dedicated to the people of Iraq.
7. Hiroshima: The Last Sound [3:29]
I was present in Hiroshima on August 6, 2005 to record the yearly ringing of the peace bell at 8:15 am, 60 years to the moment the atomic bomb detonated over that city. When the 50,000 people gathered at the Peace Park were called to silence for the bell, I was overwhelmed by the sound of the surrounding cicadas. The thought that rushed between my ears was that 60 years earlier cicadas like these were the last sound heard by the thousands who perished into the brightest light, the hottest heat, and the loudest sound the world has known. The brown cicada, aburazemi (Graptosaltria nigrofiscata) and bear cicada, kumazemi (Cryptotympana facialis) are soundmarks of mid and late summer in Western Japan. I hear them now as voices from the atomic atrocity.
Dedicated to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.