The Bells Of Friday The 13th - Forces
Bells, by and large, are a huge part of our lives. They let us know when dinner’s ready. They alert imprisoned children as to when school is over for the day. Famously morose author Edgar Allan Poe even wrote a poem about them. On the artistic front here in Melbourne, there are, of course, the Federation Bells in Birrarung Marr.
Consisting of 39 individual computer-controlled harmonic bells, the Federation Bells were installed in 2001 by Anton Hassel and Neil McLachlan to mark the centenary of Federation. Having just been renovated and retrofitted with state-of-the-art metronomic hammers, computer controllers and new lids, the bells are ready for their close-up.
Enter the creative folk at City of Melbourne’s Late Night Programming. They’ve come up with a corker of an evening to celebrate the Federation Bells’ new lease on life: The Bells of Friday the 13th, a multi-media extravaganza featuring two of Melbourne’s most progressive art-rock acts, A Dead Forest Index and Forces, creating new musical works for the re-invigorated bells.
Alex Akers, vocalist and producer for minimalist electro-industrial outfit Forces, is on the phone with me to talk about this most intriguing project and to shed some light on how one goes about writing music with these 39 bells in mind.
“There was no audition,” Akers informs me when I ask how Forces got involved with the project. “From what I can tell, the people at Melbourne Music Week were talking about [the project], and it was primarily from not getting to have done the Ceremony Project for the City of Melbourne; they had said they wanted to do something on Friday the 13th.”
I mention to Akers that I’m curious as to how the bells work, and what they’re made of. “I don’t know what the composition of the bells are, as far as the metal or the alloy,” he admits, “but I do know the media process goes through video simulators. Now, I didn’t build them, but essentially we’re going to be interacting through them as if they were a standard instrument.
“Basically there’s a velocity,” he continues, regarding the bells’ sensitivity. “You can trigger the bells with varying degrees of intensity – they’re really very responsive.”
The prospect of performing Forces’ music alongside the bells in the expanse of Birrarung Marr is something that fills Akers with more than a little enthusiasm. “It’s perfect for us, cause we love doing outdoor stuff and we enjoy doing stuff late at night!” he gushes. “And there is going to be a bit of a surprise in regards to the staging, and there are a couple of elements that are just coming together now. It’s going to be as visual as it is going to be auditory, and hopefully it’s fun as well!”
Akers, who had lived in London for a few years, joined forces with his longtime friend and drummer Thomas Henderson after returning to his hometown of Melbourne. “We’d been friends for many years, but until he joined the band, I was a solo electronic project. I felt I had to step away from the synthesizers, and I just wanted a band! Tom’s a pretty interesting character, and his knowledge of arcane scores of music is pretty compelling and deep.”
When asked what the writing process for him and Henderson was like in a conceptual sense, Akers says, “I guess we just started texturally, and I knew that we were gonna try and incorporate one or two songs that were part of Forces’ repertoire. But I mainly wanted to create something on a pretty vast scale – and that we were going to be recreating them in this vast crop of bells!”
BY THOMAS BAILEY
FORCES and A Dead Forest Index help to unveil the renovated Federation Bells in Birrarung Marr for The Bells of Friday the 13th on Friday April 13. Admission is free. For more information, visit federationbells.com.au.