Listening in Japan 1: bells

Thank you all so much for your kind wishes and lovely comments on my last post! It was so nice reading them together and so nice to share that special day with you a little bit on here.

I have been sorting through some of my sound files from the trip and thought you might enjoy hearing one or two of them. As long-term SONIK buddies will know, I am very fond of the aporee sound project run by my friend Udo Noll, and I generally upload my sounds there. I love that you can pinpoint exactly where in time and space each sound was recorded, and find recordings made by other people, too. The aporee sound maps are a fantastically collective undertaking: I think there are 1,000+ aporisti currently uploading sounds there, and I love following the adventures of the community of listeners that build the site. If you would like to hear a very general impression of Japan (not only including my sounds) I heartily recommend searching for “Japan” under places, then pressing play to hear the map play itself and all the sounds uploaded in that amazing country. You could also look up your own postcode there and see whether anyone has been uploading sounds to the map to aporee that you recognise…

…although I am a huge fan of aporee, I upload sounds to soundcloud from time to time as well, because sounds are slightly easier to embed in blog posts and across social media if they are hosted there.

Today I uploaded two special sounds to soundcloud and it is these that I shall share with you today. I’d read about both of these sounds before visiting Japan when I came across an amazing project called 100 Soundscape of Japan. This was set up in 1996 by the Ministry of the Environment to combat noise pollution and to foster greater awareness of, and engagement with, local sounds. 738 submissions were received from all over the country from which a shortlist of 100 was derived by the Japan Soundscape Study Group. The final soundscapes chosen are intended to function as symbols for local people and to promote the rediscovery of sounds in everyday life.

This first sound is that of the Sapporo Clock Tower striking twelve.

The clock tower was designed and built by some of the Americans who helped establish modern-day Sapporo in the late 1800s, bringing their farming skills and knowledge. The clock tower was built in 1878 and still chimes on the hour and keeps time for the city. I like listening to the combination of the newer sounds of the city (such as the electronic sounds at pedestrian crossings that can be heard in this recording) along with this older, mechanical sound that has been part of the soundscape there for a little over a hundred years.

The Sapporo Clock Tower is a celebrated local symbol and features on the rubber stamp at the JR rail station (there are rubber stamps at many attractions in Japan, and at the railway stations too!) as well as having its own handsome stamp!

The second sound I want to share is also a bell, but this one is much older; it is the Bell of the Zenkō-ji Temple.

Zenkō-ji is a Buddhist Temple in Nagano and its special bell was cast in 1667 and, according to this sign, the Nagano Olympic Games were commenced with “its solemn peal”.

My recording is of the bell being struck several times at around 1pm. The bell-ringer approached the tower, untied a special beam held in ropes, and then gently used the beam to strike the bell. The sound is amazing, listen with headphones so you can hear all the amazing harmonics in the sound… it was a sunny day and the snow all around me was melting, which is what you can hear in the recording, as well as the bell and the bell-ringer.

As with the Clock Tower, the Temple is a celebrated local symbol and features on the rubber stamp for the local train station of Nagano.

I love bells as objects with enormous sonic and cultural fields. This sign in the Sapporo Clock Tower Museum shows “how far the sound of the Clock Tower bell could be heard in olden days” and long-term listeners of the KNITSONIK Podcast may remember me speaking a few years ago about “Of This Parish” – a sound project that explores the range of bells as a way of defining the territory of a particular church or religious building.

Foundries in different places favour different casting techniques and harmonics, so that bells from different places offer a kind of signature timbre and song.

All of this reminded me of a happy time I spent in Leuven several years ago in Belgium, recording a carillon there after a blog-post reader kindly let me know that this is a signature sound of that city.

I’m curious to know: what bells ring or are rung or struck where you live? Are they an important part of your sense of place? And do you feel there ought to be a rubber stamp that comrades who visit and listen to your special bell(s) might be able to use to commemorate that sonic occasion?


2 thoughts on “Listening in Japan 1: bells

  1. My great-grandmother was proud to have been born ‘within the sound of Bow Bells’ and therefore a true cockney (although she spent most of the rest of her life in Liverpool). I miss the change-ringing (proper bell-ringing) in England, where I was only a few hundred yards from the parish church. I live in Scotland now, not within the reach of any church bells in my small village: but the local town has a carillon of bells, and a number of other bells, including a curfew rung at 8pm to tell the students to go to bed (they don’t!).

  2. Bells mean summer evenings to me, as I hear them most often when I am out tending my garden on a weekday in the twilight, and the bell ringers are practising at our local church.

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