A N N H O L Y O K E . O R G | A M E T H O D O L O G I C A L C A T A L O G U E O F W O R K S
32 | T I D E ; or, The Bore
Filmwork, 2000 [begun 1989, completed 2000]
3-D computer animation, black-and-white ; DV-print, digital sound
DV-prints © 2000 ; DVD © 2003.
Sound recording: Eberhard Blum
Sound engineering: Wolfgang Bley-Borkowski
Animation: Nasser Heintzelmann
DV-Production: Digitrick Gerd Wanie, Berlin
DVD-Production: Jörg Jung, Berlin.
The sound recording was made on 28 September 1996. The six bells of the Church of Saint Ethelbert, Littledean, England, were rung according to the method “720 Plain Bob Minor.” The ringers were David Burt, Liz Craig, Roger Kerslake, Debby Talbott, Stuart P.B. Talbott, and Michael A. Williams, conductor.
One need not go so far as to regard as strokes of great good luck those of our ideas that, for one reason or another, are never realized—and, here, I mean our better ideas—to recognize that such stillborn works can actually spare us a good deal of morbid discontent. I, for instance, need never be exasperated, post-press, by the inadequacies of a book TIMEO; nor have I, to date, been forced to suffer through a performance of the “music” I wrote for the inauguration of the Raumwerk ARK, kicking myself the while for its shortcomings, which would surely have been legion; not to mention that ultimate dissatisfaction with the quality of the printing on the playing-cards I planned to have made up for SET has never yet been able to make of my life a living Hell. That being said, after ten years of hoping in vain to realize a film version of TIDE—for it took that long for the appropriate technology and proper funding to line up—when I had at last been able to do so, I gladly took it upon myself to sit there, squirming in the dark as it was projected in public for the first time.*
In 1989, I’d begun to toy with the idea of using the traditional animation techniques of the time—drawing, or cutting out, thousands of individual cels—to create a film picture that showed an entire cycle of the phases of the moon. Having all of my readily available funds tied up in the AEAEA project, however, I was forced to delay any realization of a filmwork TIDE indefinitely. When the idea was revived, in the late 1990s, I talked with my technician friends from film-making days about using a three-dimensional model and computer-driven camera or light source to create the visual image—procedures, that is, which would still have been almost prohibitively laborious and costly. Yet as events transpired, I can now safely say that there were considerable financial and technical advantages to having had to wait eleven years to realize TIDE as it was eventually produced in the year 2000, as a computer-generated digital video.
TIDE, Filmwork, duration 31:31 min., 2000.
[Change-ringing begins at 3:13, after the beginning rounds.]
In both sound and picture, the filmwork offers images of the at once ever-constant and ever-changing, setting a complete cycle of the moon against pitch permutations, or changes, rung on church tower bells. The duration of the sequence is 29.531 minutes: one minute of film for each day of the average synodic lunar month, from new moon to new moon. This period of approximately half an hour is, as fate would have it, just how long it takes to ring 720 (6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 [x 1]) changes on six church bells—including beginning and ending rounds—according to the English ringing method “720 Plain Bob Minor.”
1st 60 of “720” (Bob Minor)
Excerpt from the ringing method “720 Plain Bob Minor,” illustrating its pattern and a “dodge.” Drawing by Mary Pollard, 1996.
In this context, it must also be described as fateful that, in July 1994—still hoping to make the film and casting about for a suitable soundtrack—I happened to listen to a broadcast on the BBC’s World Service about the history and idiosyncrasies of English bell-ringing (which, by the way, are well worth one's while looking into). Having procured a copy of the broadcast tape, I gleaned from it first facts regarding the duration of different peals on a varying numbers of bells. Extrapolating from the startling information that it would take well-nigh thirty-eight years to ring all 479,001,600 permutations on twelve bells, I calculated that ringing the mere 720 on six must take about half an hour: the very thirty minutes I was seeking for my soundtrack. I began to wonder, idly at first, whether such changes might not be an ideal acoustic counterpart to the phases of the moon in TIDE.
The church of one small town mentioned in that broadcast had a “ring” of six bells in its tower, and on 8 August 1995, I dispatched a letter addressed simply—those being the days before comprehensive Internet research options were available—“To the Church of the Village of Littledean, Gloucestershire, England,” asking whether “Dear Sir or Madam” might be able to provide me with a recording of their bells. Now, this might indeed have proved to be the proverbial message-in-a-bottle cast into an indifferent sea had it not been for Her Majesty’s Royal Mail—and Her Majesty’s subjects’ quirks and curiosities. Both mail and subjects proved well worthy of their reputations, for it hadn’t been a week before the telephone rang with Mary Pollard, septuagenarian bell secretary, lay reader, and encyclopedic activist of Littledean’s local parish, St. Ethelbert’s, on the line. The drollery of Mary’s subsequent missives was everything one might hope for from the pen of a 70-year-old Englishwoman who signed herself “Spinster of this Parish.” In good time, our correspondence led to the fixing of a recording date, in late September 1996, at St. Ethelbert's parish church.
Bell tower of St. Ethelbert’s Church, Littledean, England.
I rented a DAT-machine and tackle and, with Eberhard Blum as my sound engineer, travelled by plane, bus, and rental car to Gloucestershire. On the eve of the ringing at Littledean, barely a week past the autumnal equinox, Blum and I stood with Mary Pollard before her hillside house Gazebo in the full light of the harvest moon. Below us, winking with the lights of a hundred hamlets, towns, and roadways, lay the broad Vale of Severn through which the Great Bend of the river wound its way southwestward toward the distant glow of Bristol and its Channel. From our lookout, we tracked the progress of the Severn Bore’s** spring-tide currents, as the river turned in its bed and flowed upstream, undulating in the moonlight like the glistening coils of a colossal water snake. The next morning, six volunteer ringers gathered in the bell chamber of St. Ethelbert’s church tower to ring the rounds and changes on their six bells—F#, E, D, C, A#, G#—according to “720 Plain Bob Minor,” the method we’d agreed upon.
Back in Berlin, the processing and adjustments needed to produce a finished soundtrack from the tape were carried out by a sound-technician friend. Quite apart from questions of technical formatting, we had to contend with two additional difficulties, the first being that the ringers had gotten off to a rocky start after the beginning rounds had been rung and the actual change-ringing began (one of them thought they were to ring a different method***); the second was that during the ringing of the closing rounds, a tractor had appeared out of nowhere over the rise of a neighboring field—very much like an absent-minded soloist bumbling onstage during the last strains of an ensemble piece—to perform with the bells. All the same, I had a sound matrix for the film, and though the project was to lay dormant for six more years, digital animation of the visual sequence was accomplished in the summer of 2000.
Primarily as a tribute to the uncanny swelling of the River Severn that we had had the great good luck to witness in the light of a full autumnal moon, yet not without a modicum of self-mockery, apropos its uninflected character, I chose to call the completed filmwork not simply TIDE, after the bookwork on which it is based, but TIDE; or, The Bore.
It is with no trace of irony whatsoever that the work is dedicated to the memory of Mary Pollard, without whose high heart (and tongue in cheek) the entire undertaking must have come to naught. She lived in her ancient stone house, with its matchless view of “England’s Green and Pleasant Land,” from the time she was ten or eleven until she died there suddenly, alone and far too soon, in February 1997.
My Holyoke forebears once hailed from Staffordshire, sixty miles—and four centuries—from our recording site. They are said to have borne the escutcheon so described: Azure à chevron Argent cotised Or between three crescents Argent.
* TIDE; or, The Bore was first shown on 15 September 2000 at the finissage of the exhibition SIGNS at the Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin.
** A tidal bore occurs when the flood tide crowds into an estuary so as to create a swell that travels up the river against its current’s natural direction—an effect usually most pronounced around the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and, as a tidal phenomenon, of course strongly influenced by the phases of the moon.
*** Due to mishaps during its recording, TIDE's soundtrack does not give an entirely accurate representation of “720 Plain Bob Minor.” The initial and final round-ringing have been manipulated here to compensate for material that had to be deleted; the change-ringing is, particularly at its outset, somewhat muddled.