[r-t] On music and ringing – future directions

Philip Earis pje24 at cantab.net
Wed Dec 30 16:34:39 UTC 2015

When ringing less than an extent - for peals this normally means ringing on stages of major and above - compositions are typically arranged to try to optimise music.

What is being optimised varies considerably according to tastes and fashions, of course, and can also be influenced by factors such as the experience of the band or the bells on which a composition is to be rung.

Predominantly, though, composers broadly look to maximise perceived musical rows. Particularly today there is a focus on run music of consecutive bells, be it traditional back-bell rollups (567890s etc), or little-bell runs (such as those that coursing orders like 24653 or 53462 generate in many methods). Runs can be both forward and reverse, off the front of the change or at the back (or indeed in the middle), and the effects skilfully magnified by multi-part cyclic compositions.

Of course, different people can have a preference for different individual rows, which may not involve runs at all…many like 8-bell rows ending 7468 for example. Call-changes are normally based around reaching perceived musical rows.

However, here I’d like to stress that change ringing’s music is not merely a case of totting up individual rows that are perceived as attractive. 

I’m not trying to argue that such an approach is irrelevant (indeed it’s often an excellent measure, and some of the finest compositions of all time have maximised run metrics). Moreover, I recognise that although it’s common to count musical rows there’s also wide recognition that the way of generating specific rows – ie the method(s) used – is far from irrelevant. 

What I feel needs more attention, though, is that (especially on higher numbers of bells) transitions within and between rows, and other “second-order” musical effects, can be very attractive.  This is an area which remains much underexplored, and hence there is massive potential for developments.

To clarify, I’m absolutely sticking to the convention that ringing is a sequence of true permutations, rung with a regular even rhythm – I’m not flirting with anything outside this realm, such as chords, discontinuities, melodies or dotted rhythms.  

So what do I mean? Let’s turn first to some concepts which are currently and frequently used.

Repetition is an oft-employed device in orchestral music, and indeed in ringing it is central to call-changes. Now pure repetition of rows in method ringing obviously causes some conflict with truth. However, repetitive effects in methods do exist and are very attractive, both in the intrinsic rows produced and in the anticipation of them occurring. 

For example in Bristol Surprise, a significant part of structure of the method is based around hunting to and back from a point…this means that when there is a roll-up there will normally be another similar roll-up either 2,4,6 or 8 changes later. This is an example of what I’ll call “vertical repetition”. Repetition in a composition - for example the structure of a cyclic n part - is another example of vertical repetition.

A second musical effect relates to how groups of bells move around in sequence. Such “coursing music” at its simplest involves two or more bells (traditionally the biggest bells) maintaining the same relative position to each other, providing stability, familiarity (and admittedly the ability to ring desired rows). The coursing effect can be accentuated by having many bells coursing in a numerically consecutive (or “tittums”) order, producing the semblance of interspersed runs. Now the beauty is that if the relative order of certain bells in the row remains constant then row after row after row can produce similar yet subtly different and ever-changing music, and on higher numbers particularly this can be mesmerising. This 24 bell handbell touch gives a notable example (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-fCRBNTNp0)

Tittums music has increased in popularity a lot in recent years, aided also by the fact that as the full tittums coursing order is invariant under rotation it’s a neat way to transition between different cyclic parts.

I’m a big fan of run-based music, and it’s a joy to see how so much better compositions are now than in generations past. There is a risk, though, that new compositions ploughing the same regular treble-dodging method field become derivative and feel stale. 

It’s far from the end of the line (a worrying metaphor in ringing) for runs: David Pipe’s Quark peals (http://www.bellringers.org/pipermail/ringing-theory_bellringers.net/2012-November/010688.html) show how new method blocks can be spliced to super result. It is perhaps time, though, to recognise that there are also different and advantageous ways to exploit music (including run music) than are conventionally used at the moment.

One approach that pays homage to these concepts which I’d especially like to highlight is what I’ll call now “horizontal repetition”. Here, there are repeated effects on different groups of bells within the same row, producing a very attractive shadowing or echo effect.

Horizontal effects are rarely consciously exploited (other than at the most basic level, such as the cross change!) However, like most ideas the concept is not exactly new: for example when calling call-changes on higher numbers of bells some towers (including St Martin in the Bull Ring) have been known to divide the row into groups of four bells, with any call applying to all groups.  So for example an initial call “3 to 1” would produce this change:


Turning to method ringing, there are a handful of rung methods which use only horizontally-symmetric changes: Duffield Major, Mirror Bob Major and Original on even stages being examples (and, more frivolously, Cross Differential).

Horizontal repetition also features on higher numbers when for example Grandsire Doubles is rung simultaneously (as 10-bell rows) on both bells 1-5 and 6-10, or say Cambridge minor rung simultaneously on 1-6 and 7-12. There was a recent quarter-peal at Surfleet that started along these lines (http://bb.ringingworld.co.uk/view.php?id=983088), but sadly the glorious shadowing effect was lost after just one lead, as the band had decided to ring different compositions on the front and back six (mystifyingly they didn’t even preserve 12-bell row truth through the compositions they chose, which was presumably the rationale for doing this). 

A third example from the limited previous history of horizontal repetition is with the concept of “winking up” methods. This produces not just satisfying horizontal shadowing effects within the row, but also the vertical benefits of groups of bells hunting around in packs, producing a stand-alone dynamic method pleasantly stuffed with runs. 

Moreover, the runs are frequently of the type that are not usually heard in oft-rung methods and compositions, such as 56781234TE09 or TE3456098721, in addition to more standard runs of 6- and 8- bells.

So what is winking up? As I explained when this was discussed here in February 2010, 

“When winking up, each bell at the lower stage become a pair of bells at the higher stage. This pair double dodge together (when their corresponding bell at the lower stage would make a place), or do four changes of plain hunt (when their corresponding bell at the lower stage would change places). The concept is simple, and it's a lot easier to get your head with a worked example. Eg a lead of plain bob minimus has the notation [-4-4-4-2]. To wink this up to an 8-bell method, each cross in the minimus notation becomes -45-45, each 14 in the minimus becomes -36-36, and the 12 change in the minimus becomes -58-58. So the notation for a lead of the winked up version is: [x45x45x36x36x45x45x36x36x45x45x36x36x45x45x5x5]. The course is clearly four times as long as the minimus parent, ie 96 changes"

(Graham John also advocated a very similar variant to winking up, “slinking up”, where instead of double-dodging four consecutive blows are made – see http://www.bellringers.net/pipermail/ringing-theory_bellringers.net/2010-February/009506.html)

The first winked up method to be pealed was in August 2000, when Wee Willie Winkie Maximus (an almost but strangely not quite winked up London Surprise Minor) was rung.  As well as an analogous section in the 24-bell handbell touch arranged by DJP for the Rod Pipe memorial dinner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-A1guNUSDg), there has been a little further experimentation along these lines since:


Here is a further new, more musical, well-rounded and simpler example of a composition splicing together conventional tenors-together maximus sections with interludes of the gloriously different music produced by wink-based methods. The composition is based on an 8-part framework incorporating all eight combinations of bells (1,2) (3,4) (5,6):

5656 (5176/5080/5000) Spliced Maximus (4m)

Bristol S         213456    MO IWH V 
Winked Cambridge  123465    ppspp 
Cambridge S       213465 
Winked London     124365    pppps 
Bristol S         214365    IH M VOW 
Winked Cambridge  124356    ppspp 
Cambridge S       214356 
Winked London     123456    pppps 

Contains 2684 Bristol S, 1052 Cambridge S, 960 each Winked Cambridge, Winked London

The linkage is rather neat...Cambridge is rung as almost a full course, ending at the roll-up 2 rows before the normal course-end.  Bristol is rung with a short round block using 4ths and 10ths place bobs, exiting at the roll-up 2 changes before the tenor becomes 10ths place bell. In both cases the result is to swap bells 1 & 2.  The singles in the winked-up blocks are called at the division end, and simply cause additional places to be made in 1234 to swap back bells 1&2, and also one of the other pairs.

Bristol callings in parts 1 & 2 may be swapped according to taste for runs vs tittums music. The composition can be easily shortened with the use of Primrose and / or Maypole, and / or with a shorter Bristol block like MO IO IV. 

In summary I feel strongly that higher-stage ringing compositions would evolve and improve if they can elegantly incorporate different musical effects, both horizontal and vertical, such as those described above.

The age-old constraints of conventional change ringing still provide sufficient flexibility for exciting aural development. The playing field is wide open and there are hardly big conceptual or complexity barriers to joining in here: it just takes composers and bands to dive in.

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