[Bell Historians] Lucy tuning

Carl Scott Zimmerman csz_stl at Kki-0mwO_MQZpCd3PW7nA8rx8uirrOckYIjNneRUgYGdbCE43KwHZoU7kEakmY4hL_ynVyEEIypUpUQ.yahoo.invalid
Sat Oct 17 20:34:51 BST 2009

Aside from a few quotations from John 'Longitude' Harrison's 
writings, there is nothing to be found at lucytune.com on the subject 
of bells.  I do not think that the question of applicability of Lucy 
tuning to bells can be seriously debated until its proponent 
addresses three matters which markedly distinguish bells from all 
other tuned instruments.

Firstly, bell tuning is irreversible.  One cannot experiment with the 
diameter of a bell in the same way that one experiments with the 
tension of a vibrating string (as in a piano or violin) or the length 
of a vibrating column of air (as in an organ pipe).  Just consider 
how limited our understanding of musical temperaments might be if it 
were necessary to construct a piano from scratch to test each new 
proposed variation!

Secondly, there is that famous (or infamous) partial tone which is 
unique to bells, and which is now standardised at the minor third 
(though in untuned bells it can vary widely).  It is arguably the 
greatest single factor in influencing the writing and arranging of 
good music for the carillon, and is widely acknowledged to be of some 
importance in almost all other modern bell instruments.

Thirdly, the partial tones of a bell must be individually tuned; they 
do not fall into place automatically with the tuning of a fundamental 
frequency, as is the case with all musical instruments which are 
strung or blown.

These three matters are well known to all who have studied bell 
tuning to any significant extent.  (That includes most of the 
subscribers to this List, I'm sure!)  But they are irrelevant to all 
discussions of musical temperament which are based on instruments 
which are normally heard in the concert hall.  Thus they are little 
known (if at all) to many quite competent musicians whose expertise 
is confined to those more conventional musical instruments.

These matters may have been considered to some degree by the few 
people who have actually worked on tuning bells to various 
temperaments.  However, I'm not aware of that, and would like to know 
more about what has been done in that area.  Without solidly based 
information about the applicability of these matters, I could not 
support the use of an untried musical temperament.


As a postscript, I should mention the infamous carillon of 
Nieuwpoort, Belgium, constructed by Michiels in 1952.  Its keyboard 
has two rows of "black" keys, connected to separate sets of semitone 
bells.  One set is supposed to be the sharps and the other set the 
flats, yielding a diachromatic temperament of some sort. 
Unfortunately, the tuning of the bells is so abysmally poor that the 
instrument utterly failed to achieve its intended goal.  It is, so 
far as I know, played in the same way as any other carillon, ignoring 
the second row of black keys.


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