Ring the bells that still can ring
August 30, 2014 12:05 AM   Subscribe

How did something as loud as a bell—something which is experienced so much more often, and more powerfully, by hearing than by sight—become dumb?

A dumbbell originally referred to equipment simulating a bell rope that did not make a noise, used for practicing bell ringing technique and developing strength.
[T]he possible combinations presented by eight bells (40,320 changes) would [...] have taken over thirty-seven hours to fully work through.
Katherine Hunt writes on the history of change ringing, in which multiple bells are rung in varying orders without repeating the same pattern. See more Youtube videos.
posted by tykky (20 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Yup, that is fascinating. Next time I'm at the gym I'm probably going to try to explain this to someone and weird them out.

kidding, I don't talk to people at the gym that freaks me out
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:49 AM on August 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

The ability of bellringers to drink inordinate quantities of beer remains to this day. I'm sure the social element is why the practice (or exercise as insiders usually call it) has survived for so long.

(Ialmost certainly know the author, but by random happenstance there are a lot of Katherines who are current or recent bellringers in Oxford!)
posted by pharm at 12:53 AM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Huh, that's awesome. I stumbled on that kind of pattern permutation in my guitar practice a few years back and it's become the cornerstone of how I develop my technique. Super meditative thing to do too. I love the sound of that kind of bell ringing, never connected the 2 things, and never knew the mathematical terminology. Thanks, great post!
posted by threecheesetrees at 1:04 AM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

What a great way to start my Saturday morning, thank you! I can definitely see the appeal of change ringing, and how that same algorithmic technique (particularly with that same limitation of no note moving more than one position) that would be a great way to practice any instrument. I may have to fool around with a Python script to generate some exercises in Lilypond notation!
posted by usonian at 6:07 AM on August 30, 2014

"Clang clang clang..."
posted by Fizz at 6:14 AM on August 30, 2014

One more link then I'll stop spamming the thread! This blog post has a nice written walk-through explanation of the S-J-T algorithm with color-coded graphics.
posted by usonian at 6:16 AM on August 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Bellringing is such a strange, fascinating thing. Thanks for this.

Also bonus points for the post title.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:15 AM on August 30, 2014

Wonderful article - thanks. My eponymous county has one of the liveliest and longest-established bellringing traditions, with hundreds of church towers being regularly rung. To get an idea of quite how much goes on, take a look at the Devon Association web site - especially the tower maps.

And yes, it is famously thirsty work...
posted by Devonian at 7:40 AM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The south-western corner of the country tends to go in for it's own ringing style involving very quick changes called out one at a time where only two bells swap over on each sequential ring through the set of bells, rather than the method ringing described in the linked article where some or all of the bells might change position between any given pair of changes.
posted by pharm at 8:35 AM on August 30, 2014

During my days as a tour guide in Toronto, I once took a group into the tower of the Cathedral Church of St. James during Doors Open and I found myself talking to one of the change ringers. This was a rare opportunity, so I asked him a few questions, including one about how new ringers are recruited: "Are they all members of the congregation?"

He said no, and in fact it was very hard to recruit new ones as old ones retired -- many of the ringers were in their sixties and were holding off on leaving because new ringers were so few. I briefly gave some thought to applying to join their ranks, but figured that as a then barely-employed atheist who lived in a different city, I could afford neither the time and money commuting to practices nor the cognitive dissonance of calling the faithful to worship.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:14 AM on August 30, 2014

From (Steinhaus–Johnson–Trotter algorithm):
Equivalently, this algorithm finds a Hamiltonian path in the permutohedron.
No question, that's my word of the day: Permutohedron.

Even better, the folks who coined the word described it as
le mot permutoèdre est barbare, mais il est facile à retenir; soumettons le aux critiques des lecteurs. (... the word "permutohedron" is barbaric, but easy to remember, and that they submit it to the criticism of their readers.) [wikipedia]
posted by benito.strauss at 9:39 AM on August 30, 2014

Thanks for the S-J-T Algorithm. Decades ago someone gave me a number substitution problem:
abc * de = fg * hi , where a-i are the digits 1-9. Once I realized this could not be solved by traditional number substitution methods, I turned to a computer to try all combinations. It's easy to do nested loops of 1-9, but that involves 99 trials. Much more efficient to just do all the permutations- 9!. But how to generate all the permutations? I can easily do this on paper (if I had enough paper for 362,880 cases), but translating my method to a program hurt my head. I did it once, but I'm not sure I could repeat it. This is way easier.
posted by MtDewd at 10:09 AM on August 30, 2014

*comes skidding in to recommend The Nine Tailors*
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:09 AM on August 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

ricochet biscuit: In my experience bell ringers are rather like cathedral choir members: the majority of them have an extremely distant relationship with religious faith; everyone (including the clergy) knows this perfectly well; nobody mentions it.
posted by pharm at 10:41 AM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

@MtDewd: I think you meant to use some other symbol than * in the formula. It doesn't make sense to multiply everything, so I guess abc should be read as multiplying the three digits and the other operation should be addition.

I wonder if the problem is solvable with pen and paper by working out the possible solutions in modular arithmetic (modulo 2, 3, 5 and 7). I'll leave trying that for another time, but if I wanted to solve it with a program, I'd approach it similarly to what you described.
posted by tykky at 10:49 AM on August 30, 2014

It is multiplication, but the digits aren't separate- they make up 2- or 3-digit numbers.
Example 187 * 23 [almost]= 46 * 95 is close.
As I recall, there turns out to be about 7 pairs of answers. (Pairs because, in the example above, if you had 46 * 95, then 95 * 46 would also be an answer)
posted by MtDewd at 11:35 AM on August 30, 2014

my god that double helix major video is enchanting
posted by stinkfoot at 11:55 AM on August 30, 2014

As much as I love etymology, I'd never thought about the word "dumbbell" before. I love it when the origins of interesting words hide in plain sight like that.
posted by Schismatic at 12:54 PM on August 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

@MtDewd: Oh I see. I guessed wrong. I'm too used to seeing things like fg as multiplication, so I didn't think of that interpretation at all.

Since C++ has a standard lbirary algorithm for generating permutations, I wrote a quick program to look for solutions. It works well in Codepad.


I suppose the insight it gives, if any, is that 9! is quite a small number for modern computers. And a lot of simple vector indexing results in ugly code. :)

(This is getting off-topic, so I think I won't post more, unless to acknowledge someone pointing out an error in my program. I tried to not put any in.)
posted by tykky at 12:34 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

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