The music of the spheres

I have often wondered how the Music of the Spheres might sound, that music created by the movement of the planets, or what the music of the afterlife (should there be one) might be like.

I think I may have found it. A disc brought out by The Change-Ringing Handbell Group in 2009 of various bell-ringing patterns, normally rung by church bells but here realised by handbells instead, presents some shimmering cascades of sound, like a cross between minimalism and sacred music: process music for the ecclesiastically minded.

Listening to patterns such as Treble Bob Sixteen-In, you can almost sense the bright vision of angels and the ringing celebration of eternal harmony.

Or Bristol Surprise Maximus

I love process music, as early Minimalism is often also called, the working-out of pre-ordained sequences of music until the pattern has been completed, before moving on to the next one. Steve Reich’s influential Music for Eighteen Musicians is built entirely on this principle, working out patterns over a sequence of eleven chords; the piece is complete when the cycles have been worked through over each of the eleven chords, at which point the chords are played through  in pulses and the music ceases.

The principle applies here, as the changes are rung through until completion. But this doesn’t mean that the music, of the handbell group or of Reich’s piece, lacks colour, harmony, or feeling. On the contrary, there are some tremendously expressive harmonies in the Reich, and the tintinnabulations of the handbell sequences have a wonderfully bright sheen, glittering with colour. There’s an infectious sense of celebration, of jubilation and good cheer about the bell-ringing patterns, an eternity of endless sunshine-drenched summer, of rainbow colours.

Process music need not be without espressivity.

(Audio extracts via LastFM).


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