One of the things I have enjoyed living in the rural regions is the bell towers as a sonic cultural network across the land. At the same time, I question the reason for the continuation of this marking of time, the purpose of these regular intervals, in which the people have long been spurred into activity, or collective behavior. Is it comfort? Do we still need these daily reminders of the passage of time? Does it give a sense of community, of belonging? Are we just unskilled in interpreting the movement of our cosmic bodies? Most of us have personal devices anyway to let them know how time passes. 

Living in Italy is the hilly region of the Apennines foothills for a while, I grew accustomed to the bell towers, most of them located on ridges and hilltops, extending the acoustic reach. Depending on where I was in the land, I could hear one or more bells. The closest village, where I would also do my shopping, and work in the fields, had ( and hopefully still has) a special pattern. It could only ring six times, the reason I don’t know. This would mean that ten ‘o clock in the morning would ring four times. It would also ring every fifteen minutes, providing extra codes to the ten o’clock signal, giving it an extra ring at 10:15, two extra rings at 10:30 and three extra rings at 10:45. It was a lot of ringing, requiring a bit of attention as well to decode the exact time. During the day, this was fine, marking exactly how much longer to go in the field before lunchtime, but for a short time I resided in a house near the old plaza and ringing is not limited to daytime business. I’m sure in time, you can get used to the bells and get a good night sleep. On Saturday, Sunday’s and Catholic feast days, the bell towers guided many to the church services. In Italy, it still resonates with (part of) the community.

Fast forward to the Terp villages in NorthEast Friesland, my current location. I am confronted again with the bell towers, distinct features in the landscape, as each village is build around the church, protestant this time. The bells ring until 12, and ring once on the half hour. My first few nights were a bit sleepless, but over time, I’ve grown accustomed and only hear the bells occasionally during the night. Now that I have my bedroom window open on the other side of the house as well, I can also hear the bells in the morning from the neighboring village and I am beginning to appreciate the sounds. The bells I hear are not synchronous, but maybe that is just part of the distance travelled. Sometimes the distant bells go a bit faster, other times slower, sometimes it resonates so beautifully.  Walking through the fields, I can gauge the distance by the sound of the bells between the villages, somewhere they meet, sometimes you find yourself in a sound ‘vacuum.’ This is probably an area where nobody lived in the past.  It is not just distance, but wind, moisture and temperature play in this game as well. I am not sure if the bells still perform their old function of guiding the community to meet in church, but as a cultural network it lives on and resonates beautifully.