©2013 Calum Scott
When Bells Are Ringing (But There Aren’t Any Bells)
Sheet steel. Electromagnets.

This piece developed out of research undertaken at Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum as part of their Hunterian Associates Programme. Inspired by the acoustics objects in the Hunterian’s scientific instruments collection, the piece explores notions of perception and illusion through the appropriation of historical scientific methods.

Specifically, it is presented as a creative response to Rudolph Koenig’s electrically maintained tuning fork from the Hunterian’s Scientific Instruments collection. Koenig manufactured a number of these tuning forks in the late 19th century for use in the emerging field of acoustic physics. They were used in the early development of wave mechanics by Franz Melde in his wavelength demonstration as well as by Herman Von Helmholtz in experiments for his treatise on auditory perception (‘On the sensations of tone’, 1863).

Koenig’s apparatus is comprised of a single tuning fork, a brass resonator (tuned to the same pitch as the fork) and an electromagnet positioned around the tuning fork tines. The electromagnet would typically have been wired in a ‘make and break’ circuit attached to the tines of the tuning fork, resulting in the continuous vibration of the fork.

‘When Bells Are Ringing’ simulates the materiality of this apparatus (the generation of vibration through electrically controlled magnets). The work explores notions of ‘ambiguous sound’ and auditory hallucination, shifting between seen/unseen vibration, and causes an unstable perception of the acoustic source. The title comes from a description of symptoms in Vern Modeland’s 1989 case study of tinnitus or ‘phantom sound’.

It was exhibited in the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow during October 2013.

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