Calling Time, 2019


Calling Time is a 40 speaker sound installation created for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and commissioned by Whitechapel Gallery.

Calling Time brings together the sounds of 40 bells, from around the world,  all originally cast at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in a unique and epic change ringing score that allows the foundry’s bells, made over its 447 year history, to ring out together.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was founded in 1570, with a history of operation in the Whitechapel area since 1420, making tower, carillon, tolling and hand bells all of which feature in this sound work, including a silent marker to the very last bell cast at the foundry on 22 March 2017 which will be heard for the first time on the opening of the new Museum of London.

Calling Time brings together bell recordings created with the help of ringers, tower masters, vicars, congregations and friends around the world from Africa, America, Australia, Canada, Europe, India and New Zealand to return their call to their place of design and manufacture. Bells range from world icons such as the Liberty Bell and Big Ben to local treasures such as the Killinghall bell rung by Elsie who was baptized at the church 90 years ago and has been ringing the bell for 31 years.

Smith’s new score is based on the traditional method of change ringing that emerged in the 17th century and allowed ringers to accurately combine the sounds of their bells to create mathematical permutations of the number of bells on which they ring. Change ringing follows a set of rules including that any bell can only change position in the ring by one place at a time and no order of bells may ever be repeated. A score that includes over 5000 changes of position is called a peal. To ring a full peal – the full extent of permutations possible on a set of numbers – is a feat rarely achievable on a larger tower of 8 bells which takes 18 hours. On the 40 bells presented in this work, a full extent would take seven hundred and fifty-five non-nillion, six hundred and ten octillion years to complete which is 522259370000000000000000000000 times the age of the universe.

Smith’s score shares a micro section of this potential – adapting the 40 line row to allow bells to fire together, weaving harmonies across bells that were never designed to ring together as a sonnet to their place of birth. Unlike bells designed to sit together, this eclectic gathering of unique bells form a chromatic set whose semi-tone divisions result in an industrial sound reminiscent of the workings of the foundry itself.

For their installation at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 40 speakers were installed, each dedicated to a particular bell in the score, to create an immersive sound installation, forming two concentric ringing circles running from largest to smallest bell and including a live bell performed by hammer. Details of all the bells and their histories accompany each speaker and the workings of the score were also presented in the space.