A few blocks from my house is a church that serves as our friendly neighborhood timekeeper. No matter the weather or the season, the bells of St. John the Evangelist Church dutifully ring out the Westminster Chimes every fifteen minutes, from 9AM until 8PM, seven days a week, year in and year out. For many of us who live or work within earshot, these bells have become a reassuring thread of continuity that unites the neighborhood in an invisible sonic matrix of shared Time.
To make this recording, I recorded the ambient sounds of the neighborhood for a full day and edited them into overlapping “slices” of sound, one slice for each of the quarter-hour chimes (45 in all). The result is eleven hours of city sound smoothly compressed into about five minutes.
If you listen closely, you can hear every single one of the day’s bells (in all, 424 distinct strikes) in chronological order. Against this gentle textural backdrop, the sounds of city life ebb and flow: footsteps, voices, vehicles, birds, horns, jets, rain, thunder. Every now and then a brief lull in the bustle suggests a city pausing to take a breath. But the bells march on.
It’s good to live near bells like these. No matter how busy my day becomes, no matter how tangled up I get in the day’s affairs, whenever I remember to lift my attention and notice these chimes, I’m called back to the great mystery of Time. And for a fleeting moment, at least, the mind can stand still to savor something truly Timeless.