A Bell For Every Minute is a sound installation, originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. It was first installed on the High Line from June 2010 through June 2011. The finished composition consists of 59 bell recordings which ring together at the top of the hour and then individually each minute after that from five speakers. I still regret that I didn’t do more to document the people I met at the sites where I recorded each bell and their stories. When I hear the piece, there are moments of conversation that come back to me—the ladder we were handed in Central Park to climb up to stand next to the monkey statues who ring the bell as the kangaroo, penguin and elephant rotate around; the nun at St. Paul’s Chapel who went out into the rain with me and said very little; the man at the Buddhist temple who suggested that my assistant and I might want to get high and really listen to the vibration of the temple bell sometime.
The first time I visited the High Line was with Meredith Johnson from Creative Time, before it was open to the public in early 2009. There was still graffiti everywhere and the feeling of visiting an industrial ghost town.
When I was up there, besides being freezing cold, I thought of the sounds that might have once been present, the clanging and ringing … and then was brought back to a memory of the very first sound I heard through my window-mounted microphones when I was in residence in the World Trade Center in 1999—church bells from some unseen spot in the city.
I decided to create a piece for the High Line that would allow me to investigate bells all over New York, from religious cultures to maritime bells, sporting arenas, bars, and whatever else might appear.
Once I began, I tried to take a photograph of each site. The photo that most often gets used to represent the project is from Herald Square. The structure that includes the bell is called “Minerva and the Bell Ringers.” I almost passed over that site. I kept thinking it would be too noisy to record in midtown and couldn’t imagine what sort of bell would be there. I came to the park on a freezing cold day. Two men were sleeping on benches. The automated bell ringers struck on the hour. At the end of the recording, just as the bell fades, I can hear someone saying, “Hey, who took all my rubber bands?” Random bits of city sound and city people become part of the memory. An accident of oral history.
Soon after I began the process of recording, there was an article in one of the newspapers that a bell from Coney Island’s Dreamland Amusement Park had turned up. Dreamland had burned down in 1911. In recent years, a diver had been looking for remnants of the amusement park off of the piers of Coney Island and he had come up with the original bell that weighed several hundred pounds. The bell was “on view” under the Cyclone. It was presented in the Coney Island History Project’s small shack for two weeks before going into a private collection. I was given the chance to record it. The guys in charge screamed at visitors and those passing by to quiet down so I could record the bell.
The bell remained in great condition. Only the clapper had rotted. That night, after Coney Island, I visited my friends Saul and Kristen Becker. Kristen was the architect for the project. Saul helped me with some of the site-visits. Their cat, Boots walked by, with his collar jingling and the discovery of my next recording was revealed.
I recorded at more than one temple and honestly can’t remember which one it was that offered the potentially psychedelic experience. This photo below is from the Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Chinatown:
This one was at my sound engineer, Bob Bielecki’s house in upstate NY but never made the cut:
In late September 2009, I was invited to come to St. Paul’s Chapel, to record the Bell of Hope. This bell was a gift to the U.S. by the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is wrung every September 11. I came to the Chapel on a rainy Sunday morning, not sure who I was meeting. Eventually, a young nun came up and introduced herself to me as Sister Precious (at least as I remember). She took me out to the courtyard. She hadn’t said anything to begin and I originally imagined it would be a short ring of the bell and a run for shelter. Instead, she rang the bell for nearly three minutes, smiling kindly the whole time. The longer it went on, the more I could hear the bell as it resounded, filling the courtyard and filling the space beyond the gates of the yard and out to the streets which had politely quieted down just for that moment. In my installation, which is now in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden, you hear an edited version. I thought this would be a nice moment to include the original file, just as it was played.
Other locations included the Delacorte Music Clock in Central Park,
the New York Stock Exchange,
and the Goof Stuff Diner in Union Square.