The world premiere of Bethia is just under two months away. A lot of work has gone into the new piece by both myself and a collection of talented individuals, whose work has been paramount in realising my vision of the piece. I wanted to share a little about what we’ve all been working on.
A couple of months ago myself and fellow composer Will Rice braved the bell tower of Hull’s Holy Trinity Church in order to create a digital version of the carillon bells that could be used as an instrument during the performance of Bethia at the Royal Festival Hall — a proposition far easier to accomplish than attempting to disassemble the bells and move them to London for a single performance. To create the digital instrument, we first had to record each of the carillon’s 24 chromatic pitches, which took nearly 10-hours of work across two evenings, and also involved the soiling of at least one pair of boxer shorts due the wide and colourful variety of potentially lethal hazards of the 40-foot high tower.
Our first issue was the setup, which required nearly ten-thousand-pounds-worth of recording equipment to be carried up the narrow spiral staircases that led to the ringing chamber and eventually to the bell tower. While I cannot be certain, I believe it is a fair argument that the designers of the staircase did not intend to accommodate suitcases laden with cables and microphones, though they did have the foresight to create a space of ever-diminishing width, which provided hours of fun.
On the first evening’s recording, 50-meter cables were sent out of the ringing chamber and onto the roof of the church to power a stereo-pair of microphones that we had pointing up towards the bell tower. On the second evening, the same cables were sent vertically up into the bell tower, in which Will traversed various lethal drops in the pursuit of optimal microphone placement — the Gabe Walker of location recording. We used a variety of microphones, both inside and outside the building, that were powered by a Grace Designs m108, which Grace Designs had kindly leant us for the project. Once we began recording, it took around and hour or so each evening before traffic on the nearby A-road would be quiet enough to provide useable takes, however we were also faced with other acoustic problems, including the ringing of another set of bells from a nearby church — the irony of not being able to hear our bells due to the sound of bells was not lost on us — and the colourful language of a couple arguing some 40-feet bellow — for those interested, the topic was a lacklustre Valentine’s Day meal.
With our recordings in the bag, Will set about rebuilding The Matrix as he saw fit, which is another way of saying he built a Kontakt instrument with a level of coding that is far beyond my skills as a copper top. Videographer Adam Blyth was kind enough to brave the bell tower with us in order to shoot a video of the process. The video features an early extract of Bethia as the soundtrack, in which you can hear the fruits of our labour: the sampler instrument of the carillon bells.