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Recasting the Tsar Bell with John Granzow


As a preview of this weekend’s panel and public presentation of the Tsar Bell project this weekend on April 15th and 16th, the Berkeley Center for New Media presents a interview with John Graznow, one of the many collaborators on the construction of the bell’s sound.

How did the project to digitally recreate the Tsar Bell come about?
Greg Niemeyer and Chris Chafe had the initial idea.

Why did your team feel that it was important to create the sound of the Tsar Bell?
The Bell’s status as having ‘never rung’ inspired the project. In failing to ring in the air, this bell resonates in the mind as we contemplate its potential sound. We do not often consider this peculiar difference between airborne sounds and imagined ones. But a bell of this stature that fails to resound in the former, is deafening in the latter. The Tsar Bell has been ringing for centuries in the mind of those trying to imagine its sound. I see these computational models deployed here not as ways to resolve such imaginaries but as an exciting continuation and advancement of them. In short, and after Magritte, this is not the sound of the Tsar Bell. This is the sound of the bell in our attempts to imagine its voice with the latest tools of analyses and synthesis. So, I think this sound celebrates our ongoing inquiry into the senses, the limits of what we can hear, and the endeavor to scale available materials to those outer limits.

What preliminary research was involved in reconstructing the sound of a bell that never rang?
Images of relevant bell profiles were acquired and used to determine the geometry of the bell which was then drawn as a digital model. The bell broke in a way that partially revealed its wall thickness. Richard Strauss was consulted and helped achieve the right profile. The digital mesh of the bell was used in computational simulations to predict the constituent frequencies of such a bell. Our synthesis combines these frequencies as they rise and fall variably when the bell is excited.

What modeling techniques were used in creating the program?
The bell was modeled as a profile that was swept around its inner axis. A polygonal mesh was computed for a frequency simulation using Finite Element Analyses. This technique is used to approximate what frequencies would be excited in the bell. The constituent metals were researched to match density and other material properties critical to the sound of bells.

What do you hope is the listeners and attendees at the “ringing of the bell” take away from their experience with the Tsar Bell?
I hope it will be the auditory equivalent of contemplating the latest high resolution photograph of a distant planet, only increasing the desire to travel there.

About John Graznow

thumbnailJohn Granzow is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Michigan, and applies the latest manufacturing methods to both scientific and musical instrument design. After completing a masters of science in psychoacoustics, he attended Stanford University for his PhD in computer-based music theory and acoustics. Granzow started and instructed the 3d Printing for Acoustics workshop at the Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. He attended residencies at the Banff Centre and the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. His research focuses on computer-aided design, analysis, and fabrication for new musical interfaces with embedded electronics. He also leverages these tools to investigate acoustics and music perception.

Granzow’s instruments include a long-wire installation for Pauline Oliveros, sonified easels for a large scale installation at La Condition des Soies in Lyon, France, and a hybrid gramophone commissioned by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. He is a member of the Acoustics Society of America where he frequently presents his findings. In 2013, Granzow was awarded best paper for his work modeling the vocal tract as it couples to free reeds in musical performance.

Recasting the Tsar Bell

Shortly before the public presentation of the sound of the Tsar Bell at noon on Saturday, April 16th as part of Cal Day 2016, the researchers of the Tsar Bell project will discuss their methods for recreating the sound that never existed, at 10:00am in Room 310 Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. The panelists will describe technical challenges, creative concepts, and political histories they engaged with during the recreation process, and explain how they got “bell fever”. Demonstrations for all ages will show why bells ring and what the long history of bells tells us about our changing world.

Collaborators (in alphabetical order): Ed Campion, Chris Chafe, Jeff Davis, Olya Dubatova, John Granzow, Perrin Meyer, DJ Spooky and Moderator Greg Niemeyer. This program is presented in partnership with made@berkeley, highlighting UC-Berkeley’s collaborative achievements across all fields of the arts and design, Meyer Sound, and the Berkeley Center for New Media.

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