Bell Jar Orchestra

Research output: Other contribution


The Bell Jar Orchestra focuses on aesthetising the materiality of sound. It brings a heightened visibility to the physicality of sound and explores the construction of meaning in relation to the medium through which sound travels. The instruments draw reference to the historicity of science and in particular the beginnings of modern science in the 17th century. The 17th century gave rise to the empirical laboratory, a place for the observation and measurement of physical phenomena. This period questioned the value of speculative rationalism and proposed a methodology for empirical enquiry through demonstrable and repeatable laboratorial experiments. It gave rise to a set fundamental laws which established the cornerstones of modern science. One such law, Boyle’s Law, by Irishman Robert Boyle, describes the inverse relationship between air pressure and volume. The apparatus of Robert Boyle’s laboratory was typical of a 17th century natural philosopher; air pumps, bell jars, test tubes, thermometers and barometers, devices to carry out experiments with air pressure, heat, vacuums etc. One aspect of the research project is to allow for a deepened investigation and appropriation of the methodologies of 17th century science and to employ the apparatus, techniques and scientific laws of the 17th century to manipulate and structure sonic material into musical form. This research works toward the construction of a series of compositions for a bell jar orchestra. Inside each bell jar will be an automated mechanical hammer striking a tuned bell. The volume of sound emitting from each bell jar is contingent upon the air pressure inside the bell jar. The air pressure inside the bell jar is controlled by air pumps. When the bell jar is a vacuum no sound is heard, when the bell jar is filled with air, the sound will be at its loudest. By dynamically controlling the flow of air through the bell jars, the loudness and softness of the sound can be controlled, producing a rich, dynamically changing interlacing of sonic material across all 8 bell jars. The ebb and flow of musical loudness and softness is a function of air pressure inside the bell jars. The research recontextualises the intellectual heritage of the 17th century scientific enlightenment and aestheticises the scientific methodologies, apparatus and laws which stem from the 17th century.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2013


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