Tunes are over-rated.
October 31, 2002 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Tunes are over-rated.
If you have the type of mind that rejoices in complex mathematical patterns, obscure terminology, and the blurred line between Science and Art, you will find the peculiarly English art of Change-ringing intriguing.
posted by Catch (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Beautiful! Thank you, Catch.
posted by Winterfell at 3:50 PM on October 31, 2002

I'm ashamed to say I thought change-ringing was tapping the keys of old-fashioned, ringing cash register to give the customer his change. Until today. Never let it be said one learns nothing from Metafilter. Cheers, Catch - great post; makes you want to go out and try it.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:01 PM on October 31, 2002

makes you want to go out and try it
Heh, I've already bitten the bullet and emailed my local cheif-bellringer wallah. I am lately making the attempt to embrace my ethnic heritage, and it was this or Morris dancing : )
posted by Catch at 4:06 PM on October 31, 2002

chief, dammit.
posted by Catch at 4:07 PM on October 31, 2002

For a great novel with change ringing and murder! try Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Wimsey went back to the house and found the Rector in his study, busily writing out a touch of Treble Bob Major.
'One moment, my dear boy,' he said, pushing the tobacco-jar towards his guest, 'one moment. I am just pricking this little touch to show Wally Pratt how to do it. He has got himself "imbrangled" as they call it-- fine old English word, that. Now what has the foolish lad done here? The ninth lead should bring Queen's change-- let me see, let me see-- 51732468, 15734286-- that's the first thirds and fourths all right-- 51372468, 15374286-- and that's the first fourths and thirds-- 13547826-- ah! here is the trouble! The eighth should be at home. What has happened? -- To be sure! What a beetle-headed cuckoo I am! He has forgotten to make the bob. She can't come home till she's called.'

posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:34 PM on October 31, 2002

Oh Secret Life Of Gravy! Not another Sayers reader! I'll admit that Nine Tailors is what set me off on this. What a gruesome death in that one.
posted by Catch at 4:38 PM on October 31, 2002

The Nine Tailors is, IMO, one of the best Lord Peter books. So glad there are other Sayers fans here. We've discussed the method of death on the Lord Peter mailing list (self-link, I maintain the page), and we've determined, alas, that it's not really possible.

There are, alas, very few bell-towers in the US, but I've had the privilege of ringing the bells at the Old North Church in Boston. There is a regular group of folks who ring every Saturday morning, more or less. It's an amazing thing, to actually ring a church bell. It's also a lot of fun. Highly recommended, if you ever get the chance.
posted by eilatan at 4:51 PM on October 31, 2002

I went looking on KaZaA for the mp3z, but strangely enough none were to be found. I did find some here, and a bunch of other leads via Google.
posted by Nelson at 4:59 PM on October 31, 2002

Here's an applet that does change ringing. You can pick all sorts of methods and patterns and adjust doodads to your heart's content. Pretty cool. :)
posted by eilatan at 6:20 PM on October 31, 2002

Check out Boards of Canada and Venetian Snares while you're at it.
posted by Satapher at 7:14 PM on October 31, 2002

Oops, I can't believe I forgot to include the Change Ringing Resources page in my post. Tons of links, including simulators and software.
posted by Catch at 7:23 PM on October 31, 2002

There's more than one novel with change ringing at its heart: The Printer's Devil by Chico Kidd. This one gets very involved with the history of change ringing and it's a ghost story to boot.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:00 PM on October 31, 2002

As a mathematics problem, it's pretty interesting, but am I the only one who thinks that it sounds like a horrible cacophony?
posted by fuzz at 10:47 PM on October 31, 2002

It's quite a facinating art, and apparently there is a very tight-knit culture that goes along with it. I met a bunch of change-ringers when I was visited an American friend in London that was working on a documentary about them. From what I remember, every Sunday they ring in two or three cathedrals and then spend the rest of the day at the pub. Most of the ones I met were quite dedicated to it, although I don't think many are actually doing it for religious reasons, nor were they usually paid. It almost seemed like some sort of quasi-secret society.

The process itself was totally baffling to watch, partly because the bells don't sound until a second or two after the rope is pulled. I have no idea how they remember when it is their turn to pull the rope. But I have a feeling that once you get the hang of it, it is actually quite automatic and relaxing.

Finally, as someone with an interest in avant-garde music, I find the paralells between change-ringing and the "preformed" music of the 20th century (particularly integral serialism and its musical relatives) to be quite facinating. As I understand it, change-ringing is based on tone rows that mutate according to preset rules. The only actual "composing" that goes on is in setting the initial row. A decent chunk of modern music operates under similar or even the exact same principles. I wonder if change-ringing may even have had a influence on the early avant-gaurdists?
posted by boltman at 10:57 PM on October 31, 2002

Wow. Lemme know where I can find some MP3s of this.
posted by alumshubby at 4:42 AM on November 1, 2002

The bells of the U.S. Congress are located in the tower of the Old Post Office at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW in Washington, DC. ( There is ringing practice there most Thursday evenings. On Nov. 7th at 5 PM the bells will be rung as part of a memorial service for a late colleague of mine.

This tower is 270 feet high. The site is run by the National Park Service and you can go up the tower for a great view of Washington (and the bells) without having to deal with the long lines at the Washington Monumen
posted by gudrun at 7:09 AM on November 1, 2002

Amazing what people will come up with when the internet hasn't been invented yet....
posted by timecube at 7:42 AM on November 1, 2002

but am I the only one who thinks that it sounds like a horrible cacophony

I don't think so at all. It is obviously not melodic, but there is a sense of rightness about it (that would be the mathematics involved.)

Gudrun: I happened to read about the tower in a guidebook and so my daughter and I went there on our DC tour. Amazingly few tourists know about the place or have the inclination to visit. We had lunch downstairs, first. I highly recommend it.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:01 AM on November 1, 2002

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