Above: A few photos of the CD launch: Right - the 'friends' of St Johns kirk
Left - Ian Cassells seated at the Carillon clavier, with, L - R myself, BSc Hons graduate Brian Connor and UHI Creative Industries Subject Network Leader Pete Honeyman.
Below a low quality audio extract from the CD. The full album recording will soon be available on Amazon Music, iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play, Google Music and Spotify
St. John’s Kirk has 63 bells, more than any other building in the UK. Of these 35 form the carillon which is played regularly.
The carillon consists of the 28 cwt Bourdon, or Keynote Bell, named the ‘John the Baptist’ to whom our church was dedicated. It was cast in Flanders in 1506, and installed in St. Johns when the tower was completed in 1511. The other 34 bells were cast in London and installed in 1935 following a campaign by Melville Gray of Bowerswell. Many individuals and organisations in Perth contributed to the cost, and several bells were donated as memorials to men killed in the Great War. The bells are played on a ‘clavier’ or keyboard located in the tower. The carillon is considered by experts to be an outstanding musical instrument. It belongs to the City of Perth, and is managed by the Council which maintains it in very good condition.
St. John’s follows the European tradition of playing music of all types on the bells - hymns, traditional melodies, classical music etc. - not the English tradition of ‘ringing the changes’, where up to eight bells are rung in a constantly changing order.
Perth City’s official carillonneur is Dr. Ian Cassells. Dr. Cassells has played carillons throughout the UK and Europe, and is Scotland’s foremost carillonneur. He represented the UK at the World Carillon congress in Barcelona in 2017, and played the carillon at the World War I commemoration of the Battles of Ypres in 2018. He is President Emeritus of the British Carillon Society, and a member of the Guild of Carillonneurs of North America.
The Friends of St. John’s Kirk is aware that we have a fortuitous combination of a unique carillon and an outstanding carillonneur, and wished to facilitate a top quality recording. We were fortunate to be able to involve Mr Nick Green of the Audio Engineering department of Perth College UHI. Mr Green and his students spent much time setting up their equipment in the tower to obtain the best results, and then worked to remove extraneous noises and marry the tracks to make the recording.
Finally the design of the CD sleeve was drawn by a member of the Friends, Mrs Sara Hulbert DA. The design emphasises the joyous, uplifting nature of carillon music. The CD itself was produced by the local company Birnam CDs
John Hulbert, project co-ordinator and retired Provost of Perth, Friend of St John's Kirk
John outlines the project, the historical significance and the instrument itself beautifully above, however I would like to add to this. From my point of view after initial email contact with John my first visit to St John's was in November 2018, this was for an initial look around and chat. I invited MMus student Rowan Parker to accompany me on this first trip whilst under my supervision for an elective module of mine, the potential of this project resonating well with this Masters level module. Rowan was rewarded for his company and interest in being allowed to play the Carillon, albeit from a MIDI control keyboard connected to an electromechanical device for playing the Carillon bells. Later in the project Rowan would play both the MIDI keyboard and the original mechanical clavier for the archive recording taken of each individual bell. Each bell during this process was recorded individually and played by these 2 separate systems, the MIDI system via a hammer on the outside of the bell, the clavier activating the clapper inside the bell, each producing a subtle difference in timbre.
During this first session it was a chance to test set ups, microphone positions etc. The biggest concern being to get the most direct sound from the bells without overloading the microphones or mic. preamps. However this concern over the sound pressure level produced by the carillon turned out not to be an issue, the chosen AKG C414 matched pair of microphones selected handled the levels with head room to spare. The microphones were in turn coupled to a UAD Arrow 2 channel mic. preamp interface via Mogami cabling and recorded into Logic Pro software maintaining a high fidelity recording chain throughout. The recording resolution was 96KHz, 24 bit. Accompanying myself and Rowan for this session were 3 BSc Hons Audio Engineering students under my supervision from Perth College UHI: Brian Connor, Luke Duffin and Micah Nye. Once I was happy with the set up Brian, Luke and Micah took control of the recording session doing and excellent job. They gained a really useful insight into the challenges of location recording and were positive and professional throughout working for a real world client but not typical of the music and media industries. Recording the CD with Carillonneur Dr Ian Cassells would, I knew require a more subtle approach and certainly less mob handed than turning up with a group of very enthusiastic Hons research students.
Initial conversation with Ian revealed a reserved and sensitive individual where the carillon bells are concerned, Ian is an artiste in this sense. However through conversation and my insistence that in order to truly represent the sound of the carillon and therefore his performance, we would need to work closely and that the best place from which to record the bells was alongside him in the room that houses the clavier, positioned directly below the carillon bell array. For the CD session of performed pieces only Brian Connor accompanied me at my invitation, Brian being more reserved and dare I say sensitive than potentially his fellows. Brian also did a most excellent job of extraneous noise reduction on the finished recordings, literally the only post production processing applied to the recording. Despite having 2 days set aside to record the albums content, Ian performed so well on the first day that the additional day was not needed, as I recall there were only 2 or 3 pieces that weren't first take recordings.
The CD was launched in early September with a recital by Ian and a few speeches from those of us involved and the Provost of Perth, local press covered the launch as did Perth College UHI marketing.
The rambling thoughts and musings of an audio engineer/sound designer turned archaeoacoustician