One of the most memorizing aspects of bell ringing is watching the bells move and dance. Unlike any other instrument, the audience can see running lines move from one end of the table to the other and anticipate when large chords will be struck by watching how the bells are moving. But what if we were to make the bell stationary and have the ringers move between them?
Thanks to a performance art troop in Melbourne, Australia, we can see this in action. Strange Fruit uses an “elevated medium” to sway to and fro like grains of wheat in the wind as they perform. Imagine riding one of those horses mounted on a spring at the playground, except the spring is nearly 15 feet long. The effect is truly memorizing and hypnotizing.
As cool as that sounds, the reason they are on our blog has to do with a set of bells commissioned by the Victorian Government in 2001.
The Federation Bells were created to mark Australia’s centennial and are uniquely designed to sound only one harmonic (instead of the multitude of harmonics you hear when ringing a standard handbell). While there are 80 handbell sized bells that you can borrow from Museaum Victoria, one part of the Federation Bell Project was a mounted display of bells. Combining a mounted bell display with areal performers creates a indescribably amazing sight. Here’s an excerpt from their performance:
My favorite part of this video is watching the performers swing up to the bells and strike them in perfect time. The artists are the clappers, swinging from bell to bell, with momentum becoming the ringer. I can only image how difficult it must be to swing in harmony. You can see the artists shift their arcs minutes before they ever have to play a note just to make sure they are in the right place at the right time. Can you imagine if a handbell choir had to pick up the right bells and get them in motion pages before they ever played?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some engineering to do before rehearsal tonight.
(Disclaimer: the Handbell Brothers do not advocate any bell ensemble attempting this feat. Please consult with an engineer first.)
Cover photo from Strange Fruit’s website