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“Bell’s 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.

Martin Leibinger (Translation by Tommi Brem)

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