Steven Feld | The Time of Bells, 1

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The Time of Bells, 1

by Steven Feld

Environmental sound art meets world music in Steven Feld's soundscape compositions from Italy, Finland, Greece, & France.
Genre: World: World Traditions
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Gragnana, Italy: Village Sheep and Church Bells
10:10 album only
2. Nauvo, Finland: Rural Church Bells and Pump Organ
11:16 album only
3. Kali Vrissi, Greece: Festival Bells and Bagpipes
11:14 album only
4. Sermerieu, France: Rural Town Bell and Angelus
6:43 album only
5. Bormes-les-mimosas, France: Town Angelus Bells
6:46 album only
6. Meaudre, France: Cow Bells, Crickets, Angelus Bells
11:27 album only


Album Notes
Soundscapes of Italy, Finland, Greece and France
Steven Feld

Omnis clocha clochabilis, in clocherio clochando clochans clochativo clochare facit clochabiliter clochantes.
-François Rabelais, Gargantua, 1554

After twenty-five years of recording rainforest soundscapes in Papua New Guinea, I’ve started to listen to Europe. I’m struck by a sonic resemblance: bells stand to European time as birds do to rainforest time. Daily time, seasonal time, work time, ritual time, social time, collective time, cosmological time – all have their parallels, with rainforest birds sounding as quotidian clocks and spirit voices, and European bells heralding civil and religious time.

In these compositions you’ll hear how bells sound the time of day, the time of prayer, the time of festival, the time of transhumance. You’ll hear how their temporality shapes space, changing ambience with the season, making distance and dimension. You’ll hear how they interact with other time and space-makers, from the sea, insects and birds, to cars, televisions, and musical instruments. Most of all you’ll hear how bells simultaneously sound a present and past, as their immediate resonance also rings the longue durée of their technological and social history.

1. Gragnana: a village above Carrara in the marble mountains of Italy’s Tuscan coast. Late on a May afternoon the shepherd Benito brings his fifty belled sheep down from the hills. As they walk toward the small shed where Benito will milk and leave the sheep for the night, the village church bell, about one kilometer in the distance, sounds the descending three tones that signal a funeral. Later, at 8 p.m., the bell sounds the ave maria, marking the end of the day. The bell’s imposition of religious time on Gragnana is nothing short of ironic; the village has long been home to anti-clerical anarchists. [10:06]

2. Nauvo: a Finnish village on an archipelago southwest of Turku. In the brisk Nordic air of early spring a pair of austere bells calls the Sunday congregation. Then the resonance of the organ, one of the oldest in Finland, fills the old stone church. After the service, hymns are sung at the adjacent graveyard, and the birds, cars, and bells again mark the surrounding space and temporal motion of the day of prayer. [11:12]

3. Kali Vrissi: a Greek mountain village between the Balkan cities of Serres and Drama. Early in the new year, people gather for the annual festival of babouyera, "the old men" masked and costumed in heavy bells. Led by bagpipes and frame drums, dozens of belled men and boys parade through the winding streets. Here festival bells both create and collapse time, playing with the struggle of music and noise, plunging the village into a sonic river while making it audible like a passing flock of sheep. [11:08]

Ringing the angelus: a French village suite [24:56]

The Catholic practice of ringing the angelus to signal prayer commemorating the incarnation dates to the 13th and 14th centuries. French village bells generally sound the angelus at 7 a.m., 12 noon, and 7 p.m., heralded by a triple ring of three pulses.

4. Sermérieu: a small agricultural village in the Isére, southeast of Lyon. The morning angelus sounds through the density of trucks, cars, and tractors heading to work, accompanied by roosters, birds, dogs and TV broadcasts, and an old fountain just across the road. [6:43]

5. Bormes-les-Mimosas: a village perched above the Mediterranean, west of St. Tropez. Light winds shape the ocean’s pulse at a rocky water edge, punctuated by summer tourist car horns in the bustling streets above. Suddenly the overlapping noon angelus of two church bells, one more distant, another in the town center, sounds like dolphins at play in the water. [6:46]

6. Méaudre: an alpine village in the Vercors, southwest of Grenoble. Belled cows graze along the road, and the evening angelus pours across the valleys, followed by the roar of motorbikes and cars heading home. Later, as the cows move back up into the mountains, the evening is taken over by grillons, night crickets who sound as brittle as their name. The effect in enhanced by the electrical hum of street lights, and in the coming quiet, by my pulse. [11:27]


Steven Feld is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Music at the University of New Mexico.He previously taught at Columbia University, New York University, University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Pennsylvania. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Oslo in Norway.

Feld's research principally concerns the anthropology of sound and voice, incorporating studies in linguistics and poetics, music and aesthetics, acoustics and ecology. Since the mid-1970s he has studied the sound world of the Bosavi rainforest in Papua New Guinea. His New Guinea CDs incvlude Voices of the Rainforest (1991, Rykodisc, produced by Grateful Dead drumnmer Mickey Hart), Rainforest Soundwalks (2001, Earth Ear), and Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea (2001 Smithsonian Folkways). His European CDs include Bell and Winter Festivals of Greek Macedonia (2002 Smithsonian Folkways) and an ongoing CD series, The Time of Bells (2004-, VoxLox). His African CDs include Accra Trane Station (2007, VoxLox) and Por Por:Honk Horn Music of Ghana (2007, Smithsonian Folkways).

Feld received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius prize" fellowship in 1991, and in 1994 was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. For 2003-2004 he received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Also in 2003 he received the Fumio Koizumi Prize for lifetime achievement in the field of Ethnomusicology.



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