Between Houses (2012) was commissioned as one of twelve to celebrate the bicentennial of Columbus, Ohio. It was performed at 12:02 and 5:02 every day for the month of November, 2012, at Trinity Episcopal Church located on the corners of Broad and South 3rd Street, directly across from the Statehouse.
Can bells connect spaces, people, time, and the city together? What can the physical and acoustic properties of bells tell us about how we interact with one another? Does the emergence and disappearance, reflection and absorption of their sounds say anything about our own lives?
From Rainer Maria Rilke:
"I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world"
In the summer of 2012, I went to hear an outdoor concert of several other commissioned pieces. While standing outside listening to the bells, a man named Bobby came up to me.
He was small and thin, was well-kept, and he walked slowly with a cane. He looked at me directly, making eye contact as we spoke. He talked of having cancer, of a bus ticket, of heading home. Pointing to the front of the church he said, “You see those bushes over there, next to the church? That’s where I sleep.”
This is not easy to admit: it had been a long time since I looked at a stranger so directly. It was the first time in a long while that I slowed down, purposefully, and acknowledged another. Did this have something to do with the concert of bells occurring at the same time? Had they somehow created a space for that particular conversation to take place, a between-space? Trinity is well known for its service to those that live on the street, offering food and valuable social support. For some, including myself, the bells may serve as a wake up call, a reminder of the divisions that are inherent in our society. For the homeless, this block becomes a kind of home, temporary and loosely held. There is no need to “wake up,” and they are already aware of how this space has been defined.
On a return visit, this time in October, I listened to the bells again as I sat outside during the noon lunch hour. I observed different groups of people moving past, interacting, and coming together, albeit momentarily: those working in the service industry exchange a few words with business men and women over a transaction; a couple walk by quickly, speaking of and absorbed in the world of politics. While sitting there, it occurred to me that the bells are defining an in-between space, a meeting place of several spaces at once. Sacred, sonic, metaphorical, ideological, political, literal. Very literal: a space with waves of sound bouncing off of the statehouse, cars, and pedestrians, echoing spherically in every direction at once. But, perhaps more subtly, they are helping to define a space between classes, between churches and state houses, between those who have homes and those who do not.
It is these in-between spaces, between buildings and in the street––between houses––where the bells signal an opening, a place to confront what is all too often hidden and ignored. It is a space of conflict, where the sounds of birds, traffic, construction, and conversation can meet, even if it is only momentarily and fleeting, much like the bells themselves.
Historically, bells have served to both repel and attract, and this push and pull also reflects the transitory, conflicted space outside. Alain Courbin notes that bells not only define a space, but promote a sense of being closely tied to the local, and ultimately time and again “recharge” that space. It is my hope that this piece, along with its counterparts, helps to continue and advance these functions: to create a physical, aural space, one open to the many sounds and people that pass through it, and reflective of its diverse, chaotic, and ephemeral nature.
Again, from Rilke:
"Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine."
Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29
Translation: Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows