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100 tons heavier than Black Sabbath
November 13, 2009 5:37 AM   Subscribe

The Carillon is the most massive musical instrument in the world. Carillonneurs bang out heavy metal with their fists loosely clenched. It will leave your ears ringing. (Yes, it's bells. Big bells.)
posted by not_on_display (46 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is one near me in Bournville, the quaker NIMBY village built by the Cadburys that is likely part of the willy wonka inspiration. I figure the reason why they never got rid of the area's ban on the sale of alcohol is that nobody wanted to be hungover when the carillon rang.
posted by srboisvert at 5:56 AM on November 13, 2009


While the chimes at Cornell University are not technically a carillon (21 bells instead of the needed 23), they're still worth hearing.
posted by fremen at 6:01 AM on November 13, 2009


(one of these links to the Super Mario Brothers theme, just so you know.)
posted by not_on_display at 6:01 AM on November 13, 2009


Totally epic.

At some point last year I was walking around New Haven when I heard the Super Mario Brothers theme being played on bells and was very confused but amused. This explains so much.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 6:05 AM on November 13, 2009


When I get my membership card and blazer badge back from the League of Agnostics, I shall urge the executive to lodge a protest against that religious racket! Pass the butter knife!
posted by Pollomacho at 6:06 AM on November 13, 2009


We have a carillon on the campus of Missouri State University- Springfield. I know the carillonneur pretty well, and ooooooo I am so envious. To play the carillon is definitely on my bucket-list.
posted by psylosyren at 6:14 AM on November 13, 2009


I'm sure I've told this story before on Metafilter, but I love it so much I'm going to tell it again. When I was in college, I worked at my school's library. At some point, we got a massive gift of books from the late carillonneur. 99% of the books were books about bells, or bell ringing, so they all went to a new "Guy's Name Campanological Collection." One of the books, though, was something random, that wasn't about bells. As we were processing the incoming books, we noticed the non-bell book, and looked to see what it was.

The book itself wasn't interesting, but what was inside it was. On the inside front cover was a handdrawn picture of the trenches of World War I. We were never able to figure out if the guy had actually served in World War I or not. On the back inside cover was a list with probably 30 entries. Each entry went something like this:

WOMAN'S NAME ETHNICITY HAIR COLOR HOW WE MET WHERE SHE IS NOW

So basically, this elderly carillonneur had kept a list of his sexual encounters in a book that he later donated to a large university library. Sadly, the list didn't photocopy well, so we weren't all able to take home copies. The lesson of the story: carillonneurs are apparently much cooler than you expect.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:25 AM on November 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Man, remember back in the 80s when all those new-wave bands had those Carillon/guitar hybrid thingies? Thank god that decade is over.
posted by bondcliff at 6:30 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


As the poet said, 'Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, just ask the fuckers to keep it down until I've finished my coffee.'
posted by Abiezer at 6:30 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


The lesson of the story: carillonneurs are apparently much cooler than you expect.

"How about I take you up in my tower and show you my bells?"
posted by Pollomacho at 6:30 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a touring carillonneur, Cast in Bronze, who performs popular music. He gives a very weird and theatrical performance, including staying masked and in costume throughout as the "Spirit of the Bells."
posted by gladly at 6:37 AM on November 13, 2009


I was an undergraduate at The University of Texas at Austin where there were carillon mini-concerts three times a week right before 1 p.m. I always loved being able to hear them.
posted by grouse at 6:45 AM on November 13, 2009


Riverside Church, NYC. Massive carillon. IIRC, the heaviest carillon in the western hemisphere. When I was a teenager, you could go up the elevator for 25 cents, and be amongst the bells, even when they were played. And the carillonneur played them live in those days. Awesome experience.
posted by Goofyy at 6:59 AM on November 13, 2009


Man, I hate those things. There's nothing worse than trying to walk through downtown at lunchtime and having to listen to 50's hits or elevator music played on a bunch of out-of-tune bells. This severely degrades the city's acoustic environment, and those responsible should be punished, or at least deafened with loud noises.
posted by sneebler at 7:22 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Found this list of the world's carillons.

I had no idea there were so many, with so many bells.

I've seen churches with a big speaker in the 'bell tower'. I'm glad to know that real bells, played by real people, still exist.
posted by eye of newt at 7:37 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


My town is cursed/blessed (depending on your distance from the towers) with two carillons, and one smaller set of bells. It is the latter that drive me insane as they are adjacent to the Farmers' Market, where I shop every Saturday. They employ the Play-it-Yourself method, and so passers-by are treated to excruciatingly bad versions of everything from Twinkle, Twinkle to We Are the Champions. Gah!

The carillons on campus are actually quite decent and I'm rarely near them when hungover so they don't bother me too much. But the bells! The Bells!
posted by beelzbubba at 7:45 AM on November 13, 2009


Goofyy: Riverside Church, NYC. Massive carillon. IIRC, the heaviest carillon in the western hemisphere.

If Wikipedia is correct, it's the world's largest.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 7:49 AM on November 13, 2009


Why does a carillon sound flat, thin, or out of tune? Is it differential expansion from temperature variations?
From such a big, expensive instrument I would expect a rounder, fuller tone.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:50 AM on November 13, 2009


All we got is Abe and Thomas Rees; the festival fireworks ARE "the best in the area" though.
posted by cookie-k at 7:55 AM on November 13, 2009


The Netherlands Carrillon in Arlington, Virginia was a gift from the people of the Netherlands to the people of the United States of America. It was made to thank the United States for its aid during and after World War II. It is at the edge of Arlington National Cemetery and near the Marine Corps War Memorial (the Iwo Jima Memorial). It is rather haunting to hear the sound of the bells in the distance when at the cemetery or memorial.
posted by gudrun at 8:06 AM on November 13, 2009


Ah, I hit post too soon. I wanted to add that it is worth noting the quote from Queen Juliana of the Netherlands about the significance of the gift of the Netherlands Carrillon; here's a quote from the National Park Service page on the carrillon that I linked to above:

"Queen Juliana endorsed the project, and on April 4, 1952, during a visit to the United States, she presented a small silver bell to President Truman as a token of the carillon to come. In ceremonies at Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C., the Queen spoke of the importance of the small bells of the carillon:

"To achieve real harmony, justice should be done also to the small and tiny voices, which are not supported by the might of their weight. Mankind could learn from this. So many voices in our troubled world are still unheard. Let that be an incentive for all of us when we hear the bells ringing." "
posted by gudrun at 8:13 AM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Surely an opportunity for some Quasimodo related jokes? I know one but it's too long to type.
posted by Major Tom at 8:20 AM on November 13, 2009


Real bells are nice. There is quality and a weird resounding harmonic that accompanies them. The cheap godawful recorded bell tape loops played by some churches make me even more athiesticky than normal. Seriously Father Mr. Pastor Reverend, that cheap shit scares off the angels.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:27 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


We've got the biggest bells of them all!
posted by owtytrof at 8:41 AM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've only ever been to Bok Tower. I enjoyed it alot.
posted by nola at 9:10 AM on November 13, 2009


To play the carillon is definitely on my bucket-list.

Suck it, psylosyren, I have played it!
posted by barrett caulk at 9:10 AM on November 13, 2009


I got a tour of the Mayo Clinic's Plummer Carillon a few years ago. Those are some badass bells, tell you what.
posted by padraigin at 9:23 AM on November 13, 2009


I'd like to take this opportunity to reiterate what I think is an important caveat. The technological history of these instruments is much deeper - and more frightening - than generally described. I recently observed the construction process of one of these devices near where I live, and this becomes immediately apparent....

/shamelessly recycled comment
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 9:39 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


...the most massive musical instrument in the world.

If Wikipedia is correct, [Riverside Church has] the world's largest.


I apprectiate not_on_display's correct usage of "massive." The largest musical instrument might well be a different thing.

(It bother's me to hear of a "massive dissapointment," or some such thing.)
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:56 AM on November 13, 2009


Yes, I know those other usages of massive are technically correct, but they undermine the utility of "massive" as the heavy thing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:03 AM on November 13, 2009


Wasn't the Teleharmonium (Mark II) the worlds largest instrument?
posted by JBennett at 10:28 AM on November 13, 2009


(I guess the Teleharmonium no longer qualifies as "in the world" since it has been lost/destroyed/disassembled.) Sorry, carry on...
posted by JBennett at 10:29 AM on November 13, 2009


<derailing own post>

posted by StickyCarpet:
"(It bother's me to hear of a "massive dissapointment," or some such thing.)"

Grammar Police! Pull over!

License and registration, please.

Do you know why I pulled you over? So I can say, "Thank you for recognizing that I understand density does not equal size!"?

NO, IT WAS NOT!!

It's for the extraneous and ironic apostrophe you used in that recognition. It bothers me, too!

I'll let you off with a warning. Next time, check both ways before you hit the "Post Comment" button. Just be glad it wasn't Officer languagehat on the beat, or your ass would be taking a sobriety test right now, and we'd be searching your computer for links to erowid.

Now get going!

</derailing own post> :)
posted by not_on_display at 10:32 AM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


A hitchhiker left that apostrophe their, I swear!
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:37 AM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


I work across the street from our carillon. I love it, although I should probably change my phone's ringtone so it doesn't sound exactly the same as the carillon (oops, confusing!). Our carilloneur is quite a guy, to say the least, and he loves it when people are interested.

He plays a great variety of music. My favorites are the "Songs To Thee, Wisconsin" medley and anything from the Bach cello suites. One day, though, there was a really crazy song coming out of there, sounding half-recorded and endlessly repeating for at least half an hour.

With my extensive coursework in music history, I thought I knew what it was. I poked around the Web trying to find a snippet of something similar, and I decided it sounded a whole lot like John Adams' "Phrygian Gates." So I smugly told everyone in the office, who were holding their ears, that I knew what it was, and e-mailed Lyle, saying, "I always love hearing you play. Was that John Adams this week?"

His response: "No, there's a girl I let up there to practice, and she likes to do her own stuff. And she might have been cleaning."
posted by Madamina at 11:39 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


His response: "No, there's a girl I let up there to practice, and she likes to do her own stuff. And she might have been cleaning."

I like punchlines better than the jokes they accompany. I have adopted the above line as an official punchline sans joke. Mostly so I could gratuitously insert another bell tower punchline in here without having to go through the obvious setup:

"I don't know his name, but his face rings a bell!"
posted by beelzbubba at 11:58 AM on November 13, 2009


"I don't know his name either, but he's a dead ringer for that other guy."
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:05 PM on November 13, 2009


Best instruments ever!
posted by Carillon at 2:20 PM on November 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


This post brought back fabulous memories. First, it recalled encountering the Riverside Cathedral bells, which are simply awe inspiring when you are up there in the tower listening to them on a wild and windy day, and lovely to hear at all times. And secondly, I love the Wellesley College Guild and Carillon folks doing their thing.

Ring dem bells!
posted by bearwife at 4:23 PM on November 13, 2009


Years ago I had occasion to hear a performance of the Brownell Memorial Park carillon, which is on an island in the middle of the nature park in Morgan City, LA. I don't remember the hand-pounding performance; there was a glass door and I remember a distinctly piano-like keyboard. It was all electric. But after the carilloneur took his bows he told us the biggest challenge of his job was that he didn't hear the sound for almost a half second after he hit the key.
posted by localroger at 5:40 PM on November 13, 2009


for those talking about the carillon tuning, bell tones are a bit different than other instruments. every bell in a real carillon has 5 distinct pitches that sounds when the bell is struck -- they take great care to tune them, and they end up in a natural harmonic series, which is different from what we are used to but is perhaps "more correct" than say, a piano, which is inherently out of tune so that it can play in any key.

http://cs-www.cs.yale.edu/homes/douglas-craig/bells/Basic/tuning.html

if you've heard older organs (i heard a justly-tuned organ at Duke once, it was awesome) it is a great experience just like a carillon performance.

we had short recitals 5 days a week at the University of Florida -- with the 61-bells in the tower right by the music building. awesome instrument. pics of the inside of the tower:

http://www.arts.ufl.edu/carillon/photogallery_carillon.shtml
posted by teletype1 at 8:00 PM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Surely an opportunity for some Quasimodo related jokes? I know one but it's too long to type.
posted by Major Tom at 8:20 AM on November 13 [+] [!]


I knew someone would bring up Quasimodo. Call it a hunch.
posted by SPrintF at 9:32 PM on November 13, 2009


weapons-grade pandemonium said:
Why does a carillon sound flat, thin, or out of tune? Is it differential expansion from temperature variations? From such a big, expensive instrument I would expect a rounder, fuller tone.

Two answers here. The perceived out-of-tuneness is a result of the unusual overtone series that the bells produce, most notable, a very prominent minor-third harmonic. We are used to hearing major-third overtones on most instruments, so the way that the harmonies of bells stack up can sound, to an unfamiliar ear, out of tune or just somehow wrong. It can be especially jarring to hear a piece you are used to hearing on a piano or other orchestral instrument played on a carillon. More information on bell overtones here.

The flat, thin sound is usually symptomatic of bell clappers that need refinishing or replacement. The shape of the inside of a carillon bell is a convex parabolic curve. The bell is fixed in place, and when played, it is struck by a spherical clapper from the inside. Ideally, for maximum resonance, the point of contact between the clapper and the bell is an infinitely small point. This is not achievable in the real world, of course, and over time, as the clapper surface wears down, the situation gets even worse. As the clapper begins to assimilate to the shape of the bell, the surface contact becomes large, obstructing the bell's resonance, and the resulting sound is dull and spread, like beating a tin pan with a spoon. This effect is particularly noticeable in the higher bells, which in carillons that have not been well maintained can be nearly inaudible from the ground.
posted by zadermatermorts at 12:54 AM on November 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


Awesome, zadermatermorts. Thanks.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:27 AM on November 14, 2009


So, how long do they stay in tune? Two or three days? And I say this from the perspective of someone able to listen to untempered tuning. (Seriously - thanks for the explanations!)
posted by sneebler at 8:32 AM on November 14, 2009


So, how long do they stay in tune? Two or three days? And I say this from the perspective of someone able to listen to untempered tuning. (Seriously - thanks for the explanations!)

In theory, they should stay "in tune" (given the caveats above about overtones) more or less forever, since a change in intonation involves adding or removing metal from the bell. Sometimes the very smallest bells can corrode enough that their pitch changes significantly, but in general, retuning bells is not necessary.

Clapper replacement is recommended, I believe, on the order of every 25 years or so. Giant bronze bells are quite durable!
posted by zadermatermorts at 9:28 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


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