Logos history projects...

Bell Tryptych: Bellenorgel
soundsculptures Beltelefoon
by Godfried-Willem Raes Beltotem



"Bellenorgel" is a automatic sound-sculpture project constructed around one central electromechanical counter, by which, in a permanently alternating way devices, having in common that they are conceived as acoustical signals, are actuated. Acoustical signals are very common to all of us be it electrical or mechanical bells, buzzers, ding-dongs, telephonebells, doorbells, claxons, horns, alarmbells, sirens, bip-bips, metronomes, testsignals, and so on.

It took me more than two years to collect and to select the complete set of devices build-in into this machine. All acoustical signals which generally are used to make people move in connection to a physical or non-physical barrier were selected for this project. This can be most clearly explained by the example of the door-bell: on the one hand, the street, domain of publicity - and associated to it, all connotations of danger, agression, vulnerability, movement, perceptibility,... - on the other hand, the house, temple of privacy, with its connotations of safety, propriety, rest, love, tenderness, protection.

These socio-culturally determined antipodes are connected to each other at only one point : a very solid and normally closed door. This door can be opened by anyone who is inside, but coming in from outside it is only possible for those who got an autorisation (the key). The outsider has no socially accepted way to come in, except when he got the explicit autorisation from the insider. All contacts with the strange and hostile outerworld passes via the door and through an acoustical signal: the doorbell.

Regardless of who may be outside and rings (asks authorization), it is always the same bell ringing, one only signal. The signal doesn't tell you anything more then : there is any outsider who wants to come in. The signal is non-personal, conceived to warn you from any outsider who may be harmfull to insist about his strangerness, to create a distance. Therefore it may be humiliating, to have to ring at your own house, just like a stranger, if by accident you have forgotten your keys. The bell is warning you of all the strange and hostile outside environment.

On the other hand, it is a way to make people move from one situation into another. To go on with the same example, when the bell is ringing, you may have a alternative open the door or not, look through the window who the stranger is, curse if you were just doing a job you cannot just leave at it is, given an instruction to another person inside the house, and so on, in any case, hearing the ringing of the bell places you in front of a choice, an alternative-behavior in which you have to take a decision.

This aspect of an acoustical signal can be made even more clear when we think about fire-bells, alarmbells, sirens. These signals are not messages without engagement, on the contrary, they force us to react by a certain behavior, which will be different in function of the agreement (a third aspect) made about these signals. Members of the fire-brigade will, when they hear alarm, immediately jump into their trucks and go to the fire. Other persons may go and look if there is no chance that the fire would do some harm to their property, then they may follow their sense for the sensational and go and look at the fire. The bell of my typewriter forces me to take another line. The bell in a shop triggers me to look for my wallet. Polices sirens may move aside anyone from the streets.

The aspect of the consent is important as well. Only bell and signals we know place us in front of an alternative behavior, because we have learned their meanings or choosen ourselves a meaning for them. A problem rises when we hear an acoustical signal we do not recognize either we interprete it as an equivalent for another known signal and react along this line (this happens when for instance, police changes the makes of their sirens) either we neglect the signal and consider it as intended for someone somewhere else, either we may feel concerned, but don't know at all what's expected from us. In this case we may have emotions in between hesistation and panic. Specially this last case is very interesting and formed one of my basic ideas in constructing this "Bellenorgel".

Some of the signals it produces may cause a certain recognition to most people; and there the meaning will be actualised or a reflex stimulated. Therefore the project as a whole will not be completely strange to most people. Nevertheless by the very different context (either the junk-machine, painted in fluorescent colours by Moniek Darge, or the sound coming from your speaker system - which forms anyway a less different context for the project) the perceived and known signal will not cause you a normal reaction to it, but will cause the quasi subconscient start to this reaction, just an refrened impulse. Therefore, after a long period of listening the machine becomes insufferable. The unknown signals it produces may be perceived either as noises without any clear reference to signals, other may give you a fright, another may remind you... Listening aside will anyhow be excluded.

A fourth aspect deals with the fact that acoustical signals are always more or less unexpected when they happen. They are sudden, abrupt and often gives us fright, even in the case we recognize the signal. In fact, such signal may hit us at any imaginable moment. A bell able to sound at any unexpected moment, makes us a bit anxious. The more unexpected an acoustical signal, the more it the creates anxiousness. What do we think if the phone rings, when we are already asleep for a long time, in the middle of the night!

I dealed with this aspects in constructing the machine. Besides a certain amount of periodicity there is a programmable amount of a-periodicity and so, the aspect of predictibility is technically realized. The machine as it appears on the LP record, is running 60 % in a self- programming way.

"Bellenorgel" as a project, can be adapted to a lot of very distinct situations; it can be an environment in which it controls a series of slide projectors, it can be a central part in a music-theatre piece performed by the Logos-Duo, and stands on its own in the form of a record...

For me, as an experimental music-maker, it means a cry, a signal in a slowly defeaned world, in which maybe only the sudden noises of claxons, horns and bells, can break some tiny part of the continuity of our colonized daily live. Music making becomes more and more difficult, the creativity is oppressed, all non-verbal noise taboeed, it is like feeling a knife on our throat, it cuts, our last resort is to pull the alarmbell.

Godfried-Willem RAES

Ghent, 1972

Bellenorgel is the central component of a triptych further composed of the automats 'Beltotem' en 'BelTelefoon'. A later interactive robot, using sirens is 'Sirene'.


Beltotem is a totem-pole, about 2 meters high, on which the author mounted a wide assortment of bells and horns together with the associated electronic circuitry. These alarm-devices can only be activated by whispering, talking, shouting... into its microphone. The louder the input, the more bells and horns will be activated. It is for most mortals almost impossible to ring all the bells together.


Beltelefoon, or beltelephone in english, constitutes the third part of the bell-tryptych. It functions as a gambling machine. The user can dial numbers using each of the four dials, taken from old telephones, on the sculpture. Since the numbers dialed add up with all previous inputs, the user has absolutely no controll over the result: the ringing of yet another assortment of bells and horns on the sculpture. The latter are arranged in a piramidal kind of hierarchy, such that the user has only one chance in 10000 to hit both loud horns together.







The sounds of the 'Bellenorgel' automaton can be found on a vinyl-LP ref.: IGL-003 published by IGLOO-records, Brussels, 1975. This publication is completely sold out and out of print now.

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Published on the Web on 25th July 1997 by Valerie Bouckaert

Last updated: 2015-04-18