“Bells Breath” transforms the tolling of the bells in the Ulm Minster into a work of sound art. This project by Andreas Usenbenz and Dorothee Köhl was created for the 125th anniversary of the minster spire’s completion and was presented in the form of an audio installation inside the minster in the fall of 2015.
There are 13 bells in the bell tower, ten of which are in use. Each bell has its own size and pitch, and each has its own function.
“Bells Breath” strips away that function, creating a new form of auditory experience. The moment of the bell tolling has been recorded, the tone stretched and the individual tones are layered on top of each other. The sound installation was situated on the ground floor inside the minster, beneath the bell frame. A platform for people to step or sit on created a spacial frame of reference, the sound was triggered by the listeners by pressing a button.
When dealing with this work, it is helpful to have a brief look at Minimal Art. In the early 1960ies, a new understanding of art was being developed in contrast to abstract painting. Part of it was an abandonment of categories that had been considered essential until then, like the aesthetic experience or the artists signature style. Industrially produced materials were now being used, every day objects were stripped bare of their function. Experiencing art turned into an experience of self-awareness on behalf of the audience.
Sculptor Tony Smith was aware of the importance of this type of experience as early as the mid-fifties. He took his students on a nocturnal journey on the still uncompleted New Jersey Turnpike. Driving down the road lacking crash barriers and road markings didn’t serve any functional purpose. Instead, the dark and the passing industrial complexes appeared in a different state of perception. It’s this experience that Smith regarded as having an artistic quality.
This kind of quality can be described further using the “Mirrored Cubes” by Robert Morris. The installation consists of four mirrored cubes. They are positioned in a square, one edge length apart from each other, therefore eliminating the element of composition. The surface, as perceived by the audience, is only a reflection of the surroundings and of itself. Artwork and location become an inseparable one. What the audience experiences is an amplified perception of itself and of the spacial situation here and now.
The here and now are two elements that appear on different levels in “Bell’s Breath”. The work strongly relates to the location, the tower hall right beneath the bell frame. At the same time, the sounds’ original function is being eliminated by prolonging and layering the different sounds. This, together with the audience’s presence in the space creates a new experience of perception.

releases February 17, 2017

All field recordings, sound design & compositions by Andreas Usenbenz, between march 2015 and may 2016

The music is based on field recordings of 10 different church bells installed in the Minster of Ulm. Usenbenz recorded the bells using a wide spaced A – B pair with omni directional DPA microphones,
a Sennheiser ORTF setup and contact microphones mounted directly to the bells or their direct environment.
The Bells where rung by the Sacristan. Additionally, Usenbenz played them with different props to tease very specific sounds out of the bells. No additional sounds were used in these compositions.

Produced at Klangmanufaktur
Artwork by Chris Corrado
Mastered by Stephan Mathieu
Cut by CGB at Dubplates & Mastering, Berlin
Distributed by a-musik
funded thru kickstarter

The music of Bells Breath is also available as streamable generative audio player at  mynoi.se/bellsbreath  www.usenbenz.net · www.klanggold.net ·


A Closer Listen

Ten bells, ten recordings, three tracks, one fine album.

We’ve been waiting on Bells Breath for quite some time,
ever since the sleep version appeared on Klanggold last April.  This is the “parent” recording, available on clear vinyl.  And what a lovely sound it makes.
Those who live around the Ulm Minster are certainly familiar with the sound of the bells, but they’ve never heard them like this.  Andreas Usenbenz stretches the recordings, doubling them over and soldering them together until they spread and set like sonic glue.  The results became an installation, placed in a room directly below the bells, where visitors might hear the sound in each in turn ~ or perhaps, if lucky, together.
A church bell is meant to do more than call people to worship.  At one time, the bell was a town’s primary means of telling time.  As such, the importance of the bells cannot be overstated.  Spirituality was conveyed through chimes, but the workday world was set in motion as well.  Toward the end of the day, citizens yearned to hear the tolling that indicated the end of a shift.  Modern societies have more accurate ways to tell time, but something has been lost in the transition: a dependence on sonic cues, an invitation to listen.  Bells Breath is both a reflection of and a reaction to time.  No longer needed as watch or alarm, the Ulm Minster bells can be appreciated for their musical qualities.  In addition, the time-stretched quality of these recordings underlines the subjective experience of time, a subject most recently covered by Simon Garfield in Timekeepers.  While listening, it’s easy to lose track of time, due to the absence of frequent markers; only when unadorned bells appear does the listener experience the now as opposed to the chronal drift.
The first clear toll arrives early in the second track (“Study IV”), but is immediately followed by stutters and echoes.  The effect is like a soft ricochet.  One can imagine sitting in the installation, closing one’s eyes, and imagining clock hands, gears and bell clappers separating themselves from their homes and floating around the room.  In this sense, the project is related to Peals’ Seltzer, also recorded in a clock tower, albeit with the addition of live instrumentation.  Each recording looks backward in time through architecture while transcending the idea of time itself.  When it all ends, one grows grateful for those sentinels of time, watching over us from towers and spires, and wonders if perhaps they know more than we do, having lasted for generations before us and likely to outlive us as well.  (Richard Allen)

Sigrid Of Brass

Bell’s Breath transforms the tolling of the bells in the Ulm Minster into a work of sound art. This project by Andreas Usenbenz was created for the 125th anniversary of the minster spire’s completion and was presented in the form of an audio installation inside the minster in the fall of 2015.

Andreas Usenbenz is self-taught. Since 2000, he is working in sound-art between field recording, composition and improvisation. For his work Usenbenz primarily uses sounds from his immediate surroundings. These sounds can be sampled directly from the environment. They serve as starting material for his compositions. Drone Music or musique concrète, Ambient are genres which are heavily connected to Andreas work.

Andreas Usenbenz has taken a raw recording of the tolling of the minster bells at Ulm and created a piece that is disassociated with the emotion extolled by the original master. But this is no remix. The peal of the minster bells are welcome to most, but grate to others. With Bells Breath, Usenbenz re-frames a sound and emotion that is pan-European in to a work that is refreshingly astute and modern.

Using layer upon layer of process sound, Usenbenz forms an ambient piece where  artwork and location become an inseparable one. What the audience experiences is an amplified perception of itself.

Very minimal and, dare I say it, very cool – “Bells Breath” references the minimalist artworks that came out of the late 1960’s. A new understanding of art was being developed in contrast to abstract painting. Part of it was an abandonment of categories that had been considered essential until then, like the aesthetic experience or the artists signature style. Industrially produced materials were now being used, every day objects were stripped bare of their function. Experiencing art turned into an experience of self-awareness on behalf of the audience.

If you are familiar with the genre of minimal music – this album, ‘Bells Breath’ is a stand out example of the genre. Not too clever, not too flat: just right.

Andrew/ sigilofbrass

Chain DLK

“Bells Breath” is such a pure and simple concept that it is difficult to either analyse or fault.

The sound of the bells of Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world, has been digitally stretched and then layered. That’s it; plenty of bells but no whistles, no frills, very little further trickery, principally just the bell sound, inflated and resonant, mesmerising and soporific. Though it’s theoretically minimalist, the tones are rich and broad and very warm, capable of filling a space wholeheartedly. The pieces were initially created as part of a 2015 art installation within the minster itself, but out of context, as simply audio, it’s a sound with fantastic power.

The main album is split into three studies. Each has a subtly different character; “Study III” is the simplest and purest. “Study IV” is somewhat darker and moodier, with very faint hints of percussive sound, distant ‘real time’ bell-ringing and occasional found sound ambience. The comparatively brief seven minutes of “Study II” sits between the two, still with dark tonality but a cleaner sound with fewer distant distractions.

As a digital bonus there’s also an hour-long “sleep version” of “Study III”, though it’s scarcely any more ambient than the others and personally I don’t see why you couldn’t fall asleep to any of these pieces.

Initially conceived as an in situ installation, and released on Klanggold who are themselves based in Ulm,

this is a piece of art that will definitely work in your home.

Stuart Bruce for Chain DLK


L’estetica drone nelle sue varie declinazioni vuole che un tono costante basti a se stesso, contenendo al suo interno tutta la pienezza che normalmente l’entità creativa ricerca attraverso una scrittura più elaborata. Le discussioni arrivano sempre alla dicotomia tra una musica più “semplice” e una più “difficile”, e ciò non dal lato dell’ascoltatore ma di chi la produce in prima persona. Un grado di giudizio decisamente immaturo, alimentato da secoli di storia della composizione classica, che al confronto somiglia a una lunga ed estenuante gara di estro e virtuosismi – tanto che spesso le opere più grandiose sono anche quelle che si esprimono nella maniera più diretta e intellegibile.
Questo per dire, una volta di più, che sarebbe forse auspicabile porre le fondamenta per una vera cultura del suono, ancor prima che dell’arte e dei suoi fautori, prestando maggior attenzione a ciò che l’universo uditivo ha da offrire di per se stesso, a costo di lasciare in secondo piano (o rimandare a un secondo momento) le implicazioni concettuali dell’opera che ne diventa il contenitore.

Benché già affermato come audio designer ed esordiente nel 2014 con alcune musiche per teatro-danza, il tedesco Andreas Usenbenz fa il suo ingresso ufficiale nel campo della sound art con un trittico di studi attorno alla risonanza delle campane, allo spettro (in ogni senso) di sfumature acustiche che le circondano in base al metodo e all’intensità di percussione. La materia prima alla base di “Bells Breath” è costituita interamente dalla registrazione in presa diretta dei diversi timbri appartenenti a dieci campane situate nel Duomo di Ulma, in Germania. In seguito all’elaborazione dei field recordings, nel 2015 l’opera è ritornata sul luogo in forma di installazione sonora site-specific.

Il lungo “Study III”, occupante la prima facciata del vinile, dimostra in maniera limpida quanto l’orecchio possa essere selettivo, e quello che distrattamente percepiamo come un suono costante e immutabile da ogni punto di vista, ha in realtà numerose tonalità parallele e un moto ondulato – insomma, quasi una vita propria, indipendente dall’azione esercitata sull’oggetto fisico –, elementi che vi conferiscono una ricchezza cromatica che nel corso di venti minuti acquisisce persino delle tenui qualità descrittive.
È invece la traccia seguente a esplorare una successione cronologica percepita bergsonianamente, mettendo in azione una vera e propria macchina dei ricordi che avrebbe il suo esatto parallelo letterario nel “tempo perduto” e ritrovato di Proust, e più da vicino con la cristallizzazione simulata da eRikm nel recente “Doubse Hysterie”.
Lo “Study II” completa i venti minuti della seconda facciata con semplicità quasi enigmatica, laddove il tono della campana si fa minaccioso come un sommesso annuncio funebre che a seguito di lievi rintocchi si propaga spontaneamente in un’eco longilinea.

L’edizione digitale della nuova release su Klanggold contiene la “sleep version” della prima traccia, la cui durata di un’ora tonda ben si presta a conciliare il riposo passando attraverso un appagante stato meditativo. In entrambi i casi, “Bells Breath” si pone come esperienza d’ascolto profondo e immersivo, non senza ispirare la sottile e ricorrente riflessione sullo scorrere del tempo e sul legame fra tradizione e modernità, a partire da un elemento sonoro e simbolico che ancora oggi esiste e mantiene in vita le memorie di un passato sinesteticamente ricchissimo. (Michele Palazzo)

The Sound Projector


Though frequently indistinguishable from one another, drone and ambient recordings are often categorised in terms of tonality and resultant emotionality; ‘dark’, ‘blissful’, ‘atonal’ and so on. Notable for its indifference towards such niceties, Andreas Usenbenz’s Bells Breath explicitly positions itself within the frame of early 1960s Minimal Art and its abandonment of pre-existing frames of reference in order to provide a fresh experience of art as one of ‘self-awareness on behalf of the audience’. I have to confess to being confused by this description, as it sounds uncomfortably similar to the kind of rationale employed to promote bible-based ecclesiastical dogma in pre-literate societies. Is it a sly dig at the religious pretensions of self-appointed ‘experts’ in the art industry?

Deeper theological mysteries might be discerned in the two sides of this clear vinyl artefact, which are inhabited by a Holy Trinity of pieces of a cold, metallic aspect akin to Jacob Kirkegaard’s otological ilk: endless glacial, hypnotic whorl set out to either sedate and stupefy listeners into catatonic passivity (a mission it manages in mere minutes on this chilly, grey day at least) or to convey them into a realm of supra-linguistic contemplation. Either effect is complemented by the record’s situation between four black-and-cloudy ‘art print’ panels that telegraph the music’s sublime and mundane effects.

As the title suggests, Usenbenz fashioned the piece for an installation from recordings of bells tolling in the Minster church in Ulm, Germany, to mark the 125th anniversary of the church spire’s completion. He follows a familiar process of layering the decelerated tonal recordings to achieve a deepening effect – though to these ears one more akin to an opiate of the masses than the gesture of heaven-bound ascension that might better befit the piece’s architectural paradigm. That said, the Minster church is a Lutheran one, so a protestant might conceivably argue that Usenbenz’s pensive radiations are better suited to a more critical theology than that provided by the pomp and drama of Catholicism. Either way, it makes for a captivating listen, however many such records one has listened to.



The Music Machine

Soundscape composer Andreas Usenbenz’ second album “Bells Breath” originally appeared in 2016 in digital format,  then in 2017 it got  a vinyl release on the klanggold label.  The album is created solely using recordings of church bells from the Minster of Ulm, refracted into a softly shimmery ambient syrup.The first piece, “Study III”, is the longest and slowest of the tracks here, a soporific, prolonged ring, a tinnitus-esque drone.  At twenty mintues, it fills all of side A on the vinyl version.  Its glimmering overtones modulate in a natural circular oscillation, reverent and patient, yet emotionless as metal.  All abrupt impacts have been removed from the ringing of the bells, leaving this protracted and smeared moment, a quivering, lingering resonance.  There are a few harsh harmonics in the higher ranges, but this is in keeping with the true sound of bells, and the ringing brightness is powerfully psychoactive.  As the sound subtly morphs and modulates, a variety of frequency bands are highlighted.  None of the depth of the natural sound has been lost in the digital processing; it is quite seamless.  I hear no evidence of looping or reverb, and yet the tolling of a bell could never be so smooth and continuous.

Side B takes more of a musique concrete approach, with rough sounding tape degradation and manipulation effects.  It is a much more drastic alteration of the source material, sounding like an LP covered in sand, a howling desert wind.  It is a pleasant contrast to the distant minimalism of side A, though also contains of the same drifting harmonic clusters as the first piece as it enters its second half.  An anticipatory chord breaths into being, filled with unconscious murmured thoughts, the collective dreams of all civilization.  Soon, it’s as cloudlike as the first piece.

“Study II” is the last piece on the vinyl version, shortest on the album at seven minutes.  It is a single forlorn chord sounding amidst rushing winds, accepting and final.  I am struck by the emotionality of this album considering it is drawn from the sound of bells alone; perhaps it is only emotional in the sense that man has always projected his feelings onto the sounds of nature and bells.  Or, perhaps, it is the emotion of Andreas Usenbenz.  In any case, there is something enduringly spiritual and thought provoking about bells.

The digital release also comes with an hour long version of side A called the “Sleep Version”.  The album as a whole is already suitable for sleeping, in my opinion, so this wasn’t really necessary, however there are some notable differences with this version, such as a larger dynamic range and a highly disconnected and remote feeling structure.  Wide, thick swells of bass occasionally amass such a large volume as to completely envelop the listener’s body in vibration.  Having attempted to record bells before myself, I know of the incredible bass frequencies found inside a resonating bell, enough to distort most any microphone.

This is a fantastic album to my ears.  The naturally ear pleasing sounds of bells have been arranged into a well paced and dynamic soundscape which does not overstay its welcome.  The three pieces on the record contrast each other pleasantly even as they are built from the same sound palette.  I am curious to hear this artist’s work with other source material.

Josh Landry


The Ambient Blog

Most environmental recordings aim to reproduce the recorded sound as natural as possible.
For Bells Breath, Andreas Usenbenz‘ approach is different. On the occasion of its 125th anniversary, he recorded the 10 church bells of the Ulm Minister, stretched them and layered the different sounds until they are no longer recognisable as church bells but still have its intrinsic character. The result was presented as an audio installation inside the minster in the fall of 2015.

A vinyl LP release with three ‘Studies’ from this installation is scheduled to be released later this year. To help fund this release, an extended (59’30”) Sleep Version of Study III is already available as CD-R version or digital download.

[Update 08-02-2017]
A beautiful clear vinyl version is released on february 17 on the Klanggold label. I’ve updated the purchase links to reflect this.

The Bells Breath release contains three different Studies (III, 20:38; IV, 13:00; II, 7:00), and it also includes the 59″  Sleep Version as an added bonus in the digital download (included with the purchase of the LP, and also available as digital-download only).


Jacob Kirkegaard * Francesco Giannico & Giulio Aldinucci * Andreas Usenbenz

For those who are interested in the development of Bells Breath can watch the Video below. It was the teaser for the 4 channel installation inside the cathedral.