A moment held in time in Coimbra
The bell tower at the University of Coimbra, Portugal is the highest point of the city, visible from almost anywhere and aptly symbolising how the university sits at the centre of life here. The bell is known in Portuguese as El Cabra, which is translated as “the goat” – however, “goat” is also used as an insult in Portuguese, and is how the students used to refer to the bell when cursing it for waking them and forcing them to their studies in the morning.
In this field recording, on a blisteringly hot day at around 38 degrees, the courtyard is quieter than usual as people shelter from the heat, and the bell strikes midday – at the end of the bell chimes, you can hear the reverberation of the Coimbra bells continuing beautifully for some time after the final chime.
The reimagined piece is built from one of my favourite sounds in the world. When a bell finishes its chimes, and the environmental conditions are right (and quiet enough), you get the most wonderful, enveloping trail of ghostly reverb in which you can completely lose yourself.
Many is the time when I’ve lost myself in this delicious experience of that bell reverb fading away, never sure when the exact instant is that I can no longer hear it, and always hoping just to hear it for a few seconds more.
In this composition, we’ve held that wonderful final note of reverb after the bells chime, and slowly, slowly built it up with some subtle accompanying warm synth beds.
The piece gets louder and the bell reverb is replaced by distant choirs and gorgeous clouds of synth ambience, which is how I imagine the sound of this reverb when I listen to it – choirs of ambience.
Here, just as you’re never sure of the precise instant when you can no longer hear the reverb in real life, just so you’re never sure when it’s been entirely replaced by artificial sounds.
Here’s a short video clip of this field recording of Coimbra bells being made: