What is ‘Hurricane Bells’?
Hurricane Bells is an artwork by me, artist Peter Shenai. I will cast 6 bells, modeled on the structure of Hurricane Katrina—the storm that devastated New Orleans in 2005. Hung in a line and struck in order, the cyclonic-shaped bells will produce a series of tones reflecting the changing intensity of the storm across its lifespan.
The bells will be cast in 2018, with performances, events and a specially commissioned Radio 4 documentary to follow.
How is Hurricane Katrina being modeled as a series of bells?
I am working with climate physicist Carlo Corsaro of Imperial College, who specializes in studying the structure of hurricanes using the latest in climate science and technology. Together, we are producing a series of 3D models, which represent the wind structure of Hurricane Katrina at different stages of development.
I’ll use computer software to model these graphs as 3D objects.
I’ll take these 3D models and cast each in bell bronze (the same stuff Big Ben is made of), resulting in a series of 6 irregularly shaped cyclonic forms of metal, which can be played as bells.
For millennia, bells have played different roles at the heart of society: they toll slowly to bear grief at funerals, they’re rung enthusiastically in celebration at festivals and weddings, or they are struck fervently to signal attack.
Similarly, these the Hurricane Bells will play many roles: they’ll act as a musical instrument, telling the story of Katrina through jazz, folk, and contemporary classical genres; they’ll be exhibited as an interactive sculpture for the public to explore and play with; they’ll be used as an educational tool in workshops, and they’ll be rung through streets and parks in performative rituals, sounding out an alarm bell to signal the effects of climate change.
Above all else, these bells will act as a memorial device, each one tolling the tale of the lives it uprooted in the most musical of communities, New Orleans.
Why do I need Kickstarter funding?
It will come as no surprise to learn that casting bells is expensive. While 70% of my funding is secured, coming from Arts Council England and other sources, I need to find a further £3500 to make this project a reality. So I’m, asking you—the wider community—to help. With your support, I can finally reach my overall funding target, and do the following:
- cast all of the bells
- share the project through a 30 minute Radio 4 documentary
- take the bells to secondary schools as part of workshops
- enter the bells into exhibitions and festivals
- begin to commission composers to write music for the bells, and plan performances
- begin new collaborations to use the bells in unexpected ways (if you’ve got an interesting idea, let me know about it!)
- document the bells using motion capture and hi-definition audio, and share the project with everyone digitally
- host an opening event to share the bells with my backers
Previous project: Change Ringing
So can this be done? Yes. Casting bells with irregular shapes is tricky, but I’ve done it before, as part of a project called Change Ringing.
In 2014, I cast a set of bells, based on climate change graphs. The bells featured in a commissioned piece by composer Laurence Osborn, which premiered at LSO St Luke’s, performed by London Symphony Orchestra players. The project was exhibited alongside work by Andy Warhol & Douglas Gordon, at Here Today—a major environmental exhibition at the Old Sorting Office in London. In 2015 the bells toured to Green Man Festival, and a 500-strong audience at Limewharf, London, heard premières of new music for the bells by four composers.
See more on the project here: http://cargocollective.com/petershenai/Change-Ringing-2014-present
How will the public engage with Hurricane Bells?
In late 2018 Hurricane Bells is going to be the focus of a 30-minute documentary on BBC Radio 4. As part of this documentary, the bells will travel to New Orleans, where the communities affected by Katrina will respond to the project and share their memories of the storm. We’ll hear from them how they’d like to see the bells used and played in the future.
Though 2018 and 2019, I’ll take the bells to the wider UK public, running a series of workshops at London secondary schools, and hosting performances of new music from internationally-acclaimed composer Byron Wallen (http://www.byronwallen.co.uk/). I’ll also tour the project to exhibitions and festivals, giving the public a chance to play the bells and improvise their own music.
For those who would like to be kept in the loop, I will be sure to keep you abreast of developments, key dates, and invite you in good time to events and performances.
This is very much an open project. If you’ve got any ideas for how to use the bells, or ideas for people who would like to collaborate or use the bells, or any other random brainwaves, I’m all ears, and would love to hear from you.
When we will be able to see, hear, and play the bells?
My casting dates are likely to be between April and June 2018. As the project progresses, I will message all funders to let you know how things are going, and keep you abreast of upcoming events. For those donating above £40 (see rewards), you will be guaranteed a place at the Sneak Preview event, where you will be among the first to see, hear, and play the bells.
Rewards include physical items, such as: high-quality custom-designed postcards and posters, featuring images of the bells, models, and process; free tickets to future events; artwork by Peter Shenai; and even unique 3D prints - as artefacts of the casting process, there are only 6 of these in existence, one for each bell! See rewards for more details.
Risks and challenges
In order to produce the bells, I am working with a series of trusted partners and suppliers, all specialists in their field with years of experience doing their thing! At every stage of the project, from conception, through to performing music on the bells, I am being guided and supported to ensure that every aspect of production goes smoothly. To give a quick run down:
– Concept feasbility study, conducted with climate physicists and Dr Carlo Corasaro and Dr Arnaud Czjar of Imperial College London
– Data modelling Hurricane Katrina, with Dr Carlo Corsaro
– 3D printing, with Hobs studio of London
– Casting and metalworking, with London Sculpture Workshop
– Planning music, workshops, and exhibitions, with Byron Wallen and various other creative partners
The most complicated part of the process is the casting, and so I have worked contingency time and money into the schedule, to allow for
– An extra day of casting, if anything goes wrong on day 1
– Extra bell metal, should it be needed
– 10% production contingency fund
- (30 days)