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Recording Church Bells
Old 21st October 2008
Gear Maniac

Question Recording Church Bells

Hello again remote folks

My life is nothing if not diverse. I have been asked to record some bells in Gt St Mary's which is the University Church in Cambridge. For the 800th Anniversary they wish to invest in new bells and some die hards would like to have a record of how the 300 year old bells sounded before they are replaced.

I am told the received wisdom is to place a mic in the bell tower in close proximity but of course the level is enormous but I am not quite sure how enormous. I guess those that have recorded stuff like jet engines etc may have some advice. I have got DPA4006s but I know there are various other models which cope with higher SPL which I can easily hire. I am also willing to challenge the received wisdom over the position of mics. I would normally record multitrack and was thinking of putting someone with a boom in the market square so they have a simltaneous idea of how it sounded in the street.

Thanks and sorry for being so random!!

Old 22nd October 2008
Gear Guru
The Bells, The Bells

What's wrapped in greaseproof paper and swings on a rope.......?

The Lunch-Pack of Notre Dame.

Seriously though. Last year I recorded an album of classical and classic tunes, played on the Carillon of St. Coleman's Cathedral in Cobh Ireland.
Spectacular views, 100M up in the air overlooking the harbour.
I used four DPA 4061's taped directly to the stone walls. In this position they act as near perfect PZM's. I chose the positions while listening though professional drummer's earplugs. You need to keep wind direction in mind. I removed the DPA's HF boost grilles and protected them with their foam popshields only. This is legit and safe according to DPA. These little DPA's can take the level, the wind, and importantly, the damp, since they are designed to be sweat immune. I left them up there for the couple of days. There were three tiers or stories of Bells. I got a stereo image of the Highs and the Mids using the 4 DPA's. I then used a single old Countryman ISOMAX under the Bass Bells. Clearly this is not a purist classical recording in the sense that it does not realistically represent any human experience. However the sound of the recording has met with great favour.

Best Regards, DanDan FitzGerald
Sound Sound - Homepage
Old 22nd October 2008
Lives for gear
Jim vanBergen's Avatar

Hey Matt-

I'm an 8th generation bellmaker in addition to being an audio engineer. I've spent enough time in bellfries and steeples among carrillons to be of some help to you. My grandfather, uncles, and dad taught me generations of knowledge of these instruments, and I learned to cast bells by hand at my grandfather's foundry in South Carolina after he emigrated to the USA post World War II. My dad is in his 70's but he's still in the bell business. ANYWAY:

I'm assuming you are talking about a decent group of bells here. Up to four bells is a Peal, from 5 to 12 is a chime, and above 12 is a carrillon. Regarless of the number of bellls, you need to know how the bells are rung. Most console action (the methodology for ringing anything more than a chime, which is only 12 bells) is either 1) electrical --literally an electromagnet on a striker that pushes the clapper into contact, or 2) mechanical, usually a combination of springs and long metal rods that pull a sprung clapper back and into the bronze bell.

Even the simplest of actions, which is a rope pulling a frame, is very noisy. For this reason alone, the noise of the action usually renders close-miking unusable. However, I'd suggest you DO look at trying to get at least a mic, if not a pair, in the steeple or bellfry. I'd suggest a dynamic, not a condenser- and a windscreen, for not only the wind up there can be bad, but there are often bats and pigeons and a lot of dung everywhere.

Bells were designed to be heard from a distance. As recordists, we have to decide what the ideal listening position is for a great representation of any instrument. Sometimes, for bells, I have found a ground location is ideal, other times, there are positions closer up- and I'd suggest looking to see if there is a good position that has an clearly audible line of direct sound that is protected form the wind.

Bells can be incredibly loud- easily 130 to 140dB during a peal, so consider hearing protection. I think you can probably find a good location where your 4006's will do a great job, a passable distance from the instrument.

Lastly- the thing I suggest to anyone who is doing recording, is to do some research with the instrument in question. You need to do some demo recordings to see how the positioning and location turns out. Take pictures and notes on all your settings and setup, and listen carefully afterwards.

My most recent bell recording featured a low E, and I put a drum mic nearby to capture the LF content- a little of it blended well, once it was time-aligned with the other mics.

I hope these thoughts help! Let us know how it turns out. Best regards-

aka Jim van Bergen, formerly of vanBergen Bellfoundries, the Netherlands.
Old 22nd October 2008
Wow... who would of thought...
Old 22nd October 2008
Lives for gear
boojum's Avatar
Originally Posted by DanDan View Post
What's wrapped in greaseproof paper and swings on a rope.......?

The Lunch-Pack of Notre Dame.
Dan, that has to be a capital crime, even in Ireland.
Old 22nd October 2008
Lives for gear
boojum's Avatar
Originally Posted by Jim vanBergen View Post
Hey Matt-

I'm an 8th generation bellmaker in addition to being an audio engineer.


aka Jim van Bergen, formerly of vanBergen Bellfoundries, the Netherlands.
Talk about depth on a board!
Old 22nd October 2008
Lives for gear
videoteque's Avatar
This forum is incredible, thanks to all!!!

I'm for the Jim theory, test record them near, mid and far and then decide. Bell recording is something in between heavy metal and religious music...
Old 24th October 2008
Lives for gear
Tone Laborer's Avatar
I think projects like this are pretty cool. It's a good opportunity for a unique experience. I'm not a bell expert, by any means, but my instinct would be to get back from the bell some distance.

My experience has come from recording church handbell choirs. Distance can cut down on some of the excess sound, and produce clearer results.

I would venture the Blumlien Fathead pair might sound good. These mics are blowing me away. (still on the honeymoon)
Old 30th October 2008
Lives for gear
NetworkAudio's Avatar
the 4003, 4004 (and 4012) will handle even higher spl than the 4006.
This is a classic application for the 130v mics.
we used the 4012 for ultraclose timpani (1/2inch off the skin) played insanely loud and no problems with the sound thanks to great headroom in our millennias.
Old 30th October 2008
Lives for gear
tnjazz's Avatar
This thread may be of assistance:

FWIW, we miked the bells in the tower with a combination of beyerdynamic and Avenson mics and I think it turned out quite nicely.

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