Ten bells, ten recordings, three tracks, one fine album. We’ve been waiting on Bells Breath for quite some time, ever since the sleep version appeared on Klanggold last April. This is the “parent” recording, available on clear vinyl. And what a lovely sound it makes.
Those who live around the Ulm Minster are certainly familiar with the sound of the bells, but they’ve never heard them like this. Andreas Usenbenz stretches the recordings, doubling them over and soldering them together until they spread and set like sonic glue. The results became an installation, placed in a room directly below the bells, where visitors might hear the sound in each in turn ~ or perhaps, if lucky, together.
A church bell is meant to do more than call people to worship. At one time, the bell was a town’s primary means of telling time. As such, the importance of the bells cannot be overstated. Spirituality was conveyed through chimes, but the workday world was set in motion as well. Toward the end of the day, citizens yearned to hear the tolling that indicated the end of a shift. Modern societies have more accurate ways to tell time, but something has been lost in the transition: a dependence on sonic cues, an invitation to listen. Bells Breath is both a reflection of and a reaction to time. No longer needed as watch or alarm, the Ulm Minster bells can be appreciated for their musical qualities. In addition, the time-stretched quality of these recordings underlines the subjective experience of time, a subject most recently covered by Simon Garfield in Timekeepers. While listening, it’s easy to lose track of time, due to the absence of frequent markers; only when unadorned bells appear does the listener experience the now as opposed to the chronal drift.
The first clear toll arrives early in the second track (“Study IV”), but is immediately followed by stutters and echoes. The effect is like a soft ricochet. One can imagine sitting in the installation, closing one’s eyes, and imagining clock hands, gears and bell clappers separating themselves from their homes and floating around the room. In this sense, the project is related to Peals’ Seltzer, also recorded in a clock tower, albeit with the addition of live instrumentation. Each recording looks backward in time through architecture while transcending the idea of time itself. When it all ends, one grows grateful for those sentinels of time, watching over us from towers and spires, and wonders if perhaps they know more than we do, having lasted for generations before us and likely to outlive us as well. (Richard Allen)