Special Events

Recasting the Tsar Bell

Special Events
16 Apr, 2016

Recasting the Tsar Bell


Read the Revisited post of this event.

Original Post

Does a bell have to ring before it is truly a bell? The Russian "Tsar Bell" was the largest bell ever cast at over 200 tons. But in 1732, before it was ever struck, this Goliath of bells broke. Its parts have been on display in the Kremlin ever since. A team of UC Berkeley and Stanford researchers made the Tsar Bell ring for the very first time.

Shortly before the public presentation of the sound of the Tsar Bell at noon, the researchers will discuss their methods for recreating the sound that never existed. 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.


Although bronze bells don't appear to be elastic, when struck, they deform. The deformation moves throughout the bell, and since the bell is round, the deformation circulates until its energy is absorbed by the environment. The sound comes from the deformation moving the air surrounding the bell. The deformations' constituent frequencies and their amplitudes form waves which define the pitch, volume and timbre of the bell's sound.

Bells don’t whistle, hum, or sing, they ring. The 'ringing' is caused by superpositions of the deformation waves. Using Finite Element analysis we can calculate how an object of a certain size and material will deform under a certain impact, and how these deformations will displace air over time. We can also compute the sound of those deformations. To test our approach, we first simulated the sound a known bell and compared its real sound with our simulation.


Historically, bells represent the collective voices of communities. Perched upon towers, they call people to prayer, warn of danger, and keep time.

Today we form communities in many ways, and often they have no geographic center. Like the broken Tsar Bell itself, many cultural experiences are fractured by disruption, migration, and change. Putting the broken fragments of the Tsar Bell back together brings us forward to new and unexpected results, rather than backward to the confines of tradition.

In this diverse, fluid cultural landscape the bell’s big public sound invites us to experience our physical communities and seek new meanings together.

A project by Ed Campion, Chris Chafe, Jeff Davis, Olya Dubatova, John Granzow, Jeff Lubow, Perrin Meyer, Greg Niemeyer, and James O'Brien, featuring carillon compositions by Chris Chafe, Jeff Davis and DJ Spooky, with graphics and vidoes by Olya Dubatova.

Special thanks to Romain Michon, Tiffany Ng, Lara Wolfe, Andrew Lampinen, Thomas Le, Alex Niemeyer, Meyer Sound, Berkeley Arts + Design Initiative, Berkeley Center for New Media, Institute of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, UC Berkeley CNMAT, Stanford CCRMA, and the University of Michigan.

Sather Tower for Tsar Bell #tsarbell #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

#Campanile with some of the 61 bells #Berkeley #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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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