Peal of 13 bells – 3 pieces
Duration c. 50′
First performance Leeds Parish Church, April 25 2009
Like most English people I grew up with the sound of church bells. 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, the alarm function still operated). 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. The various systems of change ringing became attractive to several experimental musicians in the early 1970’s – like Christopher Hobbs, Alex Hill, John White – providing, as they do a read 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 last year.
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 for me to write another in this tradition would be difficult to differentiate from others, except to specialists, and so I discussed other approaches with the Leeds team – with Steve Ollerton and Jeff Ladd. They pointed me to other approaches: some Italian church traditions, and the very interesting work done by sound artist Bill Fontana in 2005. This encouraged me to use techniques which change ringing seeks to avoid: sounding more than one bell at once, and writing harmonically. This is a real challenge to the ringers as synchronisation is difficult – but I relish the effect that comes from an honest attempt and only partial success! Spending a Sunday morning with the ringers was an inspiration and I dedicate the pieces to them.