Commission Music

Commission Music
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Thursday, 7 August 2008

Bells!

I was walking home from the dentist, and i noticed a building which said 'Whitechapel Bell Foundary' on it. The papers posted in the door indicated that it was actually still a functioning foundary and that people could come in, so I did. A woman greeted me and told me to look around. Their front room is a tiny museum.

While I was looking, I could hear occasional dings coming from the foundary area, where I guess they must have been tuning bells. This foundary was established more than 400 years ago. They cast the bells for Big Ben and, less successfully, the Liberty Bell, which cracked on its first ringing and was subsequently recast in the States.

They also make smaller bells, including handbells and offer sheet music for sale.

I peeked out into the courtyard and saw a group of new bells resting there.

This is very exciting. In my first semester at Wesleyan, i got really interested in bells and their physics, but some of my questions about how shape effects sound didn't seem to have much published material. Ron suggested that I get in contact with a bell foundry. I put the idea aside instead.

I had gone to a lecture about medieval monestaries. The professor giving the talk mentioned archeological remains of bell molds. In medieval times, bells were usually cast on site, so archeoligists have found pieces of the molds. Bell sounds were very important to Joan of Arc, so i started to wonder: if we could find enough mold fragments to project from it the shape of the entire mold, could one construct from that the timbres of the resulting bell? Could i feed some arcs into a program and get from it a synthesized bell sound that matched?

So, the material has a little effect, but not a lot. But bells are tuned after they're cast. Parts of them are cut off. So, i don't know if it could work or not. Also, is there an existant mathematical model which predicts timbres based on shape? Hey, bell founder, give me your trade secrets!

I did learn,  though, that new bells were often based on old bells. They would form the mold directly from the old bell and them melt it down for the material to cast. So you can't hear the bells from 1429 in any cathedral, except, sorta you can.

Anyway, now i have a bell foundary very conviently located near my abode. Do i want to actually do this project? Is the math beyond me?

Bells are so cool!

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