45 Bell Ringers (20 Hz, 90-volt AC) (2016)
brass dome bell ringers, microcontroller, cable, aligator clips, 12-volt battery, and variable-length cedar podiums
Power ringing is a telecommunication signal that, historically, entailed sending a high-voltage alternating current over the telephone line to ring an electromagnetic bell attached to a telephone; I chased-down 45 of these bells from the 1950s to make a kinetic sound installation. With landline telephones, a ringing voltage (which is a unique 20 Hz, 90-volt AC signal) is sent through the telephone line to ring the telephone’s bell—alerting the customer to pick-up the phone. I built a power supply that transformed a 12-volt DC car battery into this unique, and now archaic ringing voltage. Using a series of 14 switches connected to an Arduino microcontroller, I can turn on and off each bell independently. Arranged in a grid of 9 columns by 5 rows, the 45 bells were each assigned a unique ID. For example, when bell C4 is called upon by the Arduino, the switches on row C and column 4 are closed, making a connection to allow the ringing voltage from the power supply to trigger the bell’s mechanism. With this configuration my basic compositional perimeters were on/off, and duration. And because the ringing voltage has a frequency of 20Hz—causing a bell’s mechanism to fire approximately once every 50ms—the shortest duration I could use was 50ms—one single bell strike. After experimentation, the installation cycles through three different programs: it plays each bell in succession for 1 second; it plays each bell in succession for 50ms; and it plays bells at random (w/ random ring duration and silence.) While this sound sculpture is a new interface for musical expression that literally plays history—I like to think of this installation as a point of contact between old and new technology that reimagines, and re-sounds these bells; and in a way, this new instrument, transcends the rings historical meaning of regulation and control. When the installation was complete, each bell’s cedar podium was used to build raised garden beds by a local Omaha Nebraska gardener. This work was developed at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.