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Audiograph's Sound of the Week: Exploratorium Bell

All week long we've been playingthis sound, and asking you to guess what exactly it is and where exactly in the Bay Area we recorded it.

This auditory guessing game is part of our new project, Audiograph, a crowd-sourced collaborative radio project mapping the sonic signature of each of the Bay Area’s nine counties. By using the sounds of voices, nature, industry, and music, Audiograph tells the story of where you live, and the people who live there with you. Every Thursday, we reveal the origins of that week's sound on Crosscurrents, and here in weekly blog posts.

Listen above for week's answer...

For most of the last 44 years at the Exploratorium, the sound of a ringing bell has signaled the end of the day for visitors and staff. The museum’s very first closing bell belonged to Exploratorium founder, Frank Oppenheimer—it was a school bell that he brought out from his ranch in Colorado.

After his death, Oppenheimer’s son asked for the bell back, and the museum needed a new way to end the day. So in 2006, composer Brenda Hutchinson bought a 250-pound cast iron bell from a collector in Michigan, hitched a trailer to the back of her car, and drove it out to its new home in California.

BRENDA HUTCHINSON: People would beep and wave and say, oh, you got the Liberty Bell!

When the Exploratorium shut its doors at their former location earlier this year, Brenda’s bell was accompanied by a chorus of small, handheld bells, rung by Exploratorium visitors and staff—a way of saying goodbye to the old space. It’s a sound you might recognize—we’ve been playing it all week as our Audiograph mystery sound.

For its new location, the Exploratorium commissioned a new bell. KALW’s Julie Caine went to The Crucible in Oakland to meet the man behind the museum’s newest signature sound, bellmaker and foundry teacher Nick DiPhillipo.

NICK DIPHILLIPO: I'm a foundry person. I melt metal and put it into holes that are shaped like things that I want to make. I got onto bells a long time ago, so every once in a while somebody comes along and wants a bell and it's an excuse to kind of take it a little further. 

JULIE CAINE: What are bells for? 

NICK DIPHILLIPO: I think in the West especially, where we think about either church bells or school bells or city's fire departments, something's going on. You want to get people's attention. I think what I've been trying to do with the stuff I've been developing is something that has a tone that I like. You know, something that you can hit it and just feel it. Stand next to it. It's like a temple bell, in that sense.

JULIE CAINE: I like the idea so much of there being so much meaning in objects, and even meaning that this bell is going to be a very public object, at least the sound of the bell is going to be very public. Not everybody's going to know all of that meaning that goes into it, but I feel like it's present anyway. 

NICK DIPHILLIPO: I like the idea of the anonymity of it. I like the idea that there's this thing that's there and who knows who made it, who knows what happened to it. It's just an object that becomes part of its environment. Again, this is a different thing, this is a newborn, and its life is ahead of it, and I know where to find it. This is one of my children that's not going too far away, which is nice.

Watch the video of the bell's creation on the Exploratorium's website.

Congratulations to this week's winner, Matt Golightly. We'll have a new sound for you to guess and another chance to win on Saturday. 

In the meantime, is there a sound from your life that should be featured on Audiograph? Call at 415-264-7106 and tell us about the sound of where you live.

Check out our FacebookTwitter and Soundcloud pages to hear more from Audiograph.

Crosscurrents Audiograph