• Lead Artist & Composer – Helen Ottaway
  • Sound Editing & Production – Alastair Goolden
  • Video – Bronwen Bradshaw
  • Photography – Frances Ottaway
  • Trainee Creative Producer – Nathania Wong
  • Production Manager – Rachel Shipp
  • Press & Administration – Steve Ehrlicher

Two sticks and an apple, say the bells of Whitechapel
Old Father Baldpate, say the slow bells of Aldgate
Pray when will that be? say the bells of Stepney
I do not know, says the Great Bell of Bow

(extracts from an old version of the nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons)

The Ring Ring Bell Soundscape and the two ringtones can be purchased as a CD or digital download here.

Making the Ring Ring Bell Soundscape

For Ring Ring bell, we have collected and recorded bell sounds from Aldgate to Bow flyover. The bells range from jingle bells and bicycle bells to clock bells and church bells and we have included bells in as many contexts as possible – from school playgrounds and theatres to boxing rings and pubs. The largest categories in our collection are church bells and bicycle bells – both are very present on the High Street.

At the same time as collecting the sounds of all the bells we came across, we also asked their owners to talk about their bells, what they are used for and what they mean to them. This was surprising, moving, entertaining, enchanting and some cases instructive. We learnt that a bell is rung 9 times to mourn the passing of a member of the boxing community, that the altar bell is rung 3 times at the consecration of the mass, that a period of tower bell ringing is called a ‘touch’ and that people love their bells.

The Soundscape is a collage made of fragments of the recordings we have made during the project. It is part documentary, part map and part musical work. The piece travels from St Botolph’s Church at Aldgate to St Mary and Holy Trinity at Bow, the church in the road just west of Bow flyover. The bells of these two churches frame the piece. On the journey you can hear school bells, bicycle bells, all kinds of bells kept in the collection of Whitechapel Bell Foundry, a theatre bell, a boxing ring bell, the last orders bell of the Bow Bells pub, children’s bells, doorbells and the sound made by Linsey Bell’s bell sculpture.

The fact that a particular combination of school bells and bicycle bells made a kind of fast dance started me thinking about musical forms and I decided to make it in symphonic form, ending up with four movements with the church bells acting as introduction and coda. Leaving St Botolph’s and walking along the street, the first movement is an introduction to some of the bells, starting with the doorbell of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as I walked in on my first visit. The second movement (a slow movement) features the boxing ring bell and its use to mourn the dead. Half way along the High Street is Stepney so we pay St Dunstan’s Stepney Green a brief visit before launching into the movement I think of as the Scherzo – 2 fast sections of school bells and rattles interspersed with people and their bicycle bells. I’m a fan of big tunes and the very first thing I did in creating this piece was to make a big tune out of the individual bells of Christ Church Spitalfields. This forms the fourth and final movement, with the Artsadmin theatre bell and the Bow bells pub last orders bell for bookends. The piece ends with the bells of St. Mary and Holy Trinity, Bow Road.

Helen Ottaway composer, Artmusic

Thanks to all those who helped and participated, including by contributing bell sounds and stories: Franko B; Manuel Barroso; Linsey Bell; Canon Barnett Primary School staff and children; Central School of Speech and Drama (Jessica Bowles); Christ Church, Spitalfields (steeple master Alan Regin); Christian Taylor and Mayor Pharmacy, Bow Road; Jessica Denning; East End Life (editor Laraine Clay); Bill Gee; John Scurr Primary School staff and pupils (head Bridget Fagan, music coordinator Bethan Gill); Keith Leech; Joanne Matthews; Graeme Miller; Phil Mills; Kira O’Reilly; Repton Boxing Club (chairman David Robinson); Jennifer Richardson; Rusty; C. Selby & Son, Funeral Directors; St. Boniface German Church (Father Christian Dieckmann, Anthony Perera, David, Lukas and Franziska); St. Botolph without Aldgate clergy and ringers (tower captain Tim Mills); St. Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney Green ringers (tower captain Elizabeth LeMoine); St. Mary and Holy Trinity, Bow Road ringers (tower captain Jinny Kufluk); Lucy Thane; The Bow Bells Public House; The English Martyrs Roman Catholic Church (Father Oliver Barry); Tower Hamlets (Ben Pearce and Anne-Juli Browne); Tower Hamlets Arts & Music Education Service (Stuart Whatmore); Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (Kenneth Greenway); Tower Hamlets Community Housing (Michael Tyrrell and Andy Coleborn); Tower Hamlets Film Office (Dominic Reeve-Tucker); We Made That; Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Alan & Kathryn Hughes, Mark Backhouse and Ben Kipling).