Invisible Bells Ring in Quad

Associate professor installs recording of bells from around the world in Cabot

Over the past week, residents of the Radcliffe Quadrangle may have noticed a strange ringing in their ears.

But nothing is wrong with the Quadlings’ hearing. The sounds emanating from the tower atop Cabot House mark the latest endeavor of Associate Professor of Music Hans Tutschku.

Tutschku’s “Invisible Bell Tower,” which was installed last Tuesday, resonates every hour from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., playing bells from all over the world. A computer program selects a specific set of bells each hour and projects the sounds through an amplifier and a large speaker.

Tutschku, who is also the director of the Harvard University Studio for Electro-Acoustic Composition, has been collecting the bell sounds for the last 10 years as he traveled throughout Europe teaching about electro-acoustics.

“We’re very much busy in visual stimulation,” he said. “We also need to excite our aural capacities.”

The computer program includes bells from France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Georgia, Japan and a host of other countries around the globe. Tutschku, who knows seven different languages, also created some of the sounds himself using sound modeling software.

Tutschku has placed each bell sound in a particular “family” associated with a particular time of day. The family that is played in the early afternoon, for example, includes the bells that originate from a small island in Greece.

The bell tower announces each hour with the appropriate number of strokes from a “typical” bell. The computer then chooses a set of bells from Tutschku’s diverse collection that corresponds with the time of day, playing a short composition with those bells.

Tutschku said that he has received several e-mails from students who have generally affirmed their appreciation of the newly installed bells.

Many Quadlings, however, were taken aback when they first heard the bells ringing last Wednesday. No official notice was given out notifying the Quad residents of Tutschku’s project.

John G. Carlsson ’05, who is a joint music and mathematics concentrator in Cabot House, was particularly surprised when the bells began their hourly chimes last week.

“At first it bothered the heck out of me, and I wrote to the house open list with a message that said ‘SHUT UP STUPID BELLS!’” Carlsson wrote in an e-mail.

“But now I’m used to it, and it is sort of neat hearing the different sounds every morning,” added Carlson, who lives right next to the tower.

Tutschku, who joined the Harvard faculty this September, teaches Music 167ar, “Electro-Acoustic Composition.” Before coming to Harvard, he studied and taught all over Europe.

Knafel Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department Thomas Kelly said he hoped Tutschku’s project could compete with the bells that now echo throughout the Yard and River Houses.

“I hope that his bells will be as memorable as the other bells that we hear at Harvard,” he said, referring to the bells in Memorial Church and Lowell House.

“We can hope his bells will blow the other ones away.”

Tutschku’s bells will continue to play until Jan. 6.