Release Date:

June 28, 2024


Gavin’s Notes:

Like many people in England, I grew up with the sound of church bells, whether on Sundays or on practice days. The parish church in my home town of Goole would always ring from 10 to 10.30 on Sunday mornings to alert people to be in church by 10.30 (although I went to the Congregational Church rather than the Church of England Parish Church, the bells still operated as an alarm system – a call to worship). The village where I now live in Leicestershire has an active bell-ringing team, though at 8 bells they are much smaller in scale than those at Leeds Parish Church (now Leeds Minster). I hear them twice a week: rehearsal on Friday evening, church service on Sunday morning.

The various systems of change ringing became attractive to several experimental musicians in the early 1970’s – like Christopher Hobbs, Alex Hill, John White, Hugh Shrapnel – providing, as they do, a pre-existing source of systemic change and repetition, one of the ingredients of music of that time (Aran knitting patterns were another source…). John Cage, of course, wrote some pieces for bells though these are with carillon, a much simpler technique to execute (and Jon Hassell had some carillon pieces in the Punkt Festival in Norway in 2008).

But the physical reality of ringing with ropes is another thing and there is an immense repertoire of fine and mathematically complex sets of changes for this medium. It became clear that if I were to write new ones in this tradition, they would be indistinguishable from existing ones, except to specialists, and so I discussed this with the Leeds team – with Steve Ollerton and Jeff Ladd. They pointed me to other approaches: some Italian church traditions, and the interesting work done by sound artist Bill Fontana in 2005.

This encouraged me to use techniques which change ringing seeks to avoid – for example, sounding more than one bell at once – sometimes all of them as a cluster, or half and half alternating – and writing harmonically, or with melodies and accompaniment. This is a real challenge to the ringers as synchronisation is difficult. Spending a Sunday morning in the bell tower (and a subsequent large English breakfast) with the ringers – wonderful people – was an exhilarating experience and a real inspiration. I dedicate the pieces to them.

Technical note

Leeds Minster has 12 bells which span an octave and a half from G descending to C. There is also a 13th bell (B flat) which is contemporary with the rest of the ring and allows ringing 8 bells spanning an octave in the key of F. The complete numbering of the bells is:

1 (treble)                     G
2                                  F
3                                  E
4                                  D
5                                  C
6                                  B
flat 6                            Bb
7                                  A
8                                  G
9                                  F
10                                E
11                                D
12 (tenor)                    C

It is apparently not easy to ring the 6th (B natural) at the same time as the flat 6th (B flat) because of the proximity of the ropes. There are major limitations upon the timing with which individual bells can be sounded and it takes considerable skill, even for a very experienced ringer, to guarantee to produce just a single note without the bell continuing for a second unwanted strike, particularly on the heavier bells.

It is also extremely difficult to time single notes precisely because of the delay between pulling and the bell sounding. This delay increases with the weight of the bells. Thus the precisely sounded chords that I asked for on occasions were very difficult, though not impossible. I was told that what ringers are used to, and good at, is sounding the bells in evenly spaced sequences. This allows the bells and ringers to get into a rhythm and produce a high degree of accuracy. In addition I was told that bells cannot produce repeated notes which are closer than about 2 seconds for the smallest bell, and that time increases for the heavier bells. However, there is absolutely no control over volume and there is no mechanism in the tower for sounding the bells other than by rope and wheel…

The original recordings were made by sound artist Jez riley-French.



Leeds Minster Bell-Ring Team - Steve Ollerton (Ringing Master), Jeff Ladd (Deputy Ring Master)


Leeds Bells 1 (outside)
Leeds Bells 2 (outside)
Leeds Bells 3 (in tower)
Leeds Bells 4 (in tower)
Leeds Bells 5
Leeds Bells 6
Leeds Bells 7

Gavin Bryars