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Tech journalist since the dark ages. Windows Secrets, LangaList newsletter, Windows Magazine (NetGuide, Home PC), Byte, Popular Computing, yadda yadda yadda. Google me, if it matters.

This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Exploring Boston: Matisse's 'Charlestown Bells'

Paul Matisse's art is in his bones:  He's is the stepson of artist Marcel Duchamp and a grandson of French painter Henri Matisse. He's 80 now; his residence is variously given as as Vermont or Massachusetts.

In 2000, he was commissioned to design an interactive art installation along the pedestrian walkway that runs atop Boston's Charles River Dam (map), across the mouth of the Charles where it empties into Boston Harbor. The river forms the border between Boston and Charlestown; the bells are on the Charlestown side.

Matisse constructed and installed a series of 30 horizontal tubular bells that could be operated by a series of semi-enclosed, levered, cushioned mallets.The idea was that you'd trigger the mallets as you walked along, playing a short, 30-note tune.

I first saw the bells last year. I'd never heard them, or of them, before, and they were in rough shape. They'd been painted various colors (dampening the tones), and many of the mechanisms were broken --- victims to drunken fans spilling out of nearby Boston Garden and playing the game of "how hard can I kick this thing?" Most of the bells produced a dull clunk, if any sound at all.

But the bells were recently removed, rebuilt, and reinstalled. Now paint-free and with new striker mechanisms, they operate as intended.

Matisse was there to witness the re-installation of the bells. When the work was done, he was first to walk along, playing the refreshed tune. According to the Boston Globe, Matisse wept at the end of his walk. (The article's behind a paywall; sorry)

Here's a different, non-paywalled photoessay from Boston.com, with some nice pix: 

Sample; Matisse checking the new bells (please click through for the full size and the rest of the essay): 

I was at the Charles River Dam about a week ago, perhaps two weeks after the bells were reinstalled. It was a spontaneous visit: I'd been scheduled to go on a whale watch, but we never got out of the Harbor due to high seas. The captain tried twice to exit the protected waters, but the waves were such that the violent pitching was tossing people out of their seats. We all got vouchers to try another trip; my "Plan B" became a trip to see the new bells.

I only used a cell phone for these, so the pix aren't much --- but you'll get the idea.

Approaching from the Boston side of the dam, with the Bunker Hill Monument in the background:

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Closer (the bells are circled):

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The dedication plaque, on the north (Charlestown) side of the dam:

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Each bell is marked with the note it produces (F#, in this case), so you can play your own tunes, if you can move fast enough from bell to bell; of if you have an array of bell-ringers.

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Here's what they sound like; in a short video. I held my phone in one hand and tripped the strikers with the other has I walked along. The video quality is poor, but again, you'll get the idea:

If the video doesn't work for you, here's a direct link:

The Bells are free and open to the public, an easy 5 minute walk from Boston Garden ("TD Garden") and the North Station T stop; or from Paul Revere Park in Charlestown.