Value of Bells: Soundmark

R. Murray Schafer (no relation) coined the term soundmark, meaning a sound unique to an area, analogous to a landmark. Taking it a step further, Schafer argued that soundmarks should be preserved, since they define the acoustics of the surrounding community. And I agree! Tower bells fit this description. Bells are not so ubiquitous (at least in the US) as to be ordinary. Furthermore, if you listen carefully, you can hear the timbral and tonal differences in sets of bells, which lend themselves to providing a unique aural stamp on a location.

When community members or frequent visitors hear bells from a particular location, they begin to associate that place with that sound. The bell sound helps ground us in that particular place, and perhaps even a particular time. How many people associate the sound of bells with their church or Sunday morning? Or the same sound with their college campus and carefree student days? (That second association is potent—I wrote a dissertation exploring it.)

The pleasant sound of bells wafting through the air can provide a brief mental escape for listeners—passersby may hear a favorite song played on the carillon and think back to a fond memory—but at the same time the sound reminds them of their current particular place and time at that moment. A bit of a paradox, but I think the escape/grounding dichotomy is not mutually exclusive; I think both can operate together at some level

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