Silent Singing Souls

The Art Newspaper reported on artist Bill Fontana making a sound recording with Notre Dame Cathedral’s bells. When the bells are “resting” they are actually still picking up the ambient noises from the surrounding city. This can be recorded and amplified. The result is intriguingly alive and soulful. Click on the above link to listen to a video about midway down.

What else has a soul singing in the apparent silence if you take the time or have the tools to listen?

Here are quotes I liked from the article:

“It’s a physical fact that these bells are actually vibrating all the time, it’s like a spirit that’s living inside of Notre Dame. It’s not dead, it’s alive,” Fontana tells The Art Newspaper in an exclusive interview. “When I had the opportunity [in July] to climb around in the bell towers, and actually physically access [the oldest and largest bell, named Emmanuel], and put my sensors on it to listen to what’s going on inside of it, I realised I was hearing a sound that probably nobody’s ever heard before that this bell is making and has been making continuously since 1681 [when it was recast]. It’s the voice, soul, the breath of the bell.

To record the cathedral’s voice, Fontana installed an accelerometer on Emmanuel to measure the low-level vibrations the bell emits in response to its environment, which can then be adjusted to levels the human ear can pick up. “You can hear the city sounds in that bell,” the artist says, and in an early test recording sent to The Art Newspaper, which he also shared on our podcast The Week in Art, the whine of sirens and the din of motors can be heard in the ambient hum.

Emmanuel is the oldest of the cathedral’s ten bells, recast on the orders of King Louis XIV in 1681, and considered one of the most harmonically beautiful in Europe, ringing in a clear F sharp. It was the only bell to survive the French Revolution—the rest were melted down to create cannon balls—and it was the first bell to ring out when Paris was liberated from Nazi rule.

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