Does a bell have to ring before it is truly a bell? The Russian Tsar Bell is the largest confirmed bell ever cast at over 200 tons. But in 1732, before it was ever struck, this Goliath of bells broke.
Its parts have been on display in the Kremlin ever since. Our team of UC Berkeley, Stanford, and U Michigan researchers made the Tsar Bell ring for the very first time. With Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and other simulations, we created a computational model of what it would have sounded like.
Before simulating the sound of the Tsar Bell, we simulated the sound of a known bell to prove that our model produces correct results. We simulated the sound of a small dinner bell. Played side by side, the real sound and the simulated sound are nearly indistinguishable, but we noticed that the simulation feels a bit cold because it is too perfect. The simulation involves a "perfect" geometry without variations in revolved profile of the bell. Real bells have inperfections, which produce the distinctive bell sounds. The recording below shows these imperfections in a ringing timbre.
What do these imperfections sound like in a massive bell? Below is a sound example of a bell with a similar profile as the Tsar Bell, but a smaller size. Scaling the sound to the size of the Tsar Bell, we get this sound, with a warm timbre preserved.
Combining the scaling approach with the FEA approach, we created an instrument to play various aspects of the simulation at the same time, at the discretion of the bell toller. Our final model allows us to strike the bell in different, modulated ways. While we know that no simulation ever matches reality, we note that the broken bell gives birth to many versions of what the original bell might have sounded like. A dynamic model in MaxMSP is linked here and a recording of the sound. Most of the sound unfolds in very low bass frequencies. Playing the sound properly requires either a very fine pair of headphones or a high-end subwoofer. Below is a video of the fourier transform and the final sound.
Most of us have little bells in our pockets which remind us of events, announce messages, and direct our attentions. These cell phone bells ring for us individually. Historically, bells ring for all members of a community. They represent collective voices. Perched upon towers, they call people to prayer, warn of danger, and keep time.
Today we form communities in many ways, and often they have no geographic center. Like the broken Tsar Bell itself, many cultural experiences are fractured by disruption, migration, and change. Putting the broken fragments of the Tsar Bell back together brings us forward to new and unexpected results, rather than backward to the confines of tradition. In this diverse, fluid cultural landscape the bell’s big public sound invites us to experience our physical communities and seek new meanings together.
To present the Tsar Bell in the context of other bells, Chris Chafe, DJ Spooky and Jeff Davis each created a composition for expanded Carillon. Chafe's work June's Ring recalls ships lost at sea, divergin, converging and eventually finding each other. DJ Spooky invokes Balinese Gamelan instruments with his cycling and riffing composition New Forms , which is quite danceable. Jeff Davis' composition The Big Bong draws inspiration from traditional Russion Zvon bell-tolling patterns.
Tsar Bell is a project by Ed Campion, Chris Chafe, Jeff Davis, Olya Dubatova, John Granzow, Jeff Lubow, Perrin Meyer , Greg Niemeyer, and James O'Brien featuring carillon compositions by Chris Chafe, Jeff Davis and DJ Spooky, with graphics and videos by Olya Dubatova. Special thanks to Konstantin Mishurovskiy, Richard P. Strauss, Kat Rawks, Ed Campion, Romain Michon, Tiffany Ng, Lara Wolfe, Alex Niemeyer, Meyer Sound, the Berkeley Arts + Design Initiative, made@Berkeley, the Berkeley Center for New Media, the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, UC Berkeley CNMAT, Stanford CCRMA, and the University of Michigan.