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Paccard workshop making bells

The Ars Sonora Marries Centuries-Old Traditions with State-of-the-Art Technologies

The Ars Sonora’s bells are being manufactured at the Paccard Bell Foundry in the picturesque town of Annecy, France, known as the “Venice of the Alps.” Since 1796, Paccard’s world-famous bells have stood the test of time. For the past two decades, the Paccard team has been perfecting the innovative Ars Sonora concept, marrying centuries-old techniques with 21st-century technology.

To ensure that the Ars Sonora operates as planned, the bells will be pre-mounted with their dynamic strikers on a testing bench in Paccard’s workshop. Once testing is complete, the bells will be shipped to Chambéry, France, where they will be attached to a sculpture created by Paccard’s partner Satil, one of France’s top steel manufacturers. After the Ars Sonora is completed and re-tested, it will be disassembled and shipped to the University.

Paccard's workshop bellsThe Ars Sonora’s bells are being manufactured at the Paccard Bell Foundry.

The Stradivarius of Bells

For several years, a multidisciplinary team of consultants and UT staff has been busy planning and developing the infrastructure to install the Ars Sonora on-site, which includes the creation of a surrounding fountain and plaza. Comprised of engineers, contractors, lighting specialists, fountain designers and other professionals, this extraordinary team has worked diligently to bring the Ars Sonora to the University and the Tampa Bay community.

In the Ars Sonora concept, the bells are electronically connected to a sensitive piano keyboard. Each key controls a dynamic striker on a particular bell, allowing musicians to play the Ars Sonora with all the nuance and emotion an artist can provide. The bell’s shape and profile, the copper/tin mixture of the bronze and the tuning process all determine its harmonics. The result: warmth, richness and sweetness to each bell’s tone.

Paccard's workshop computerOnce the bells have been tuned, the dynamic strikers are carefully programmed with state-of-the-art software. The calibration of each striker allows musicians to play the bells at great speed and gives each note its full dynamic range.

As the musician hits a note on the keyboard, a signal travels from a control room in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values through underground wires to junction boxes at the base of the Ars Sonora and up into the 105-foot structure. All together, approximately six miles of wires connect the keyboard to each of the 61 dynamic strikers of the bells, four clappers, four counterweights, four swinging bell motors and 147 lights in the sculpture.

The keyboard connected to the Ars Sonora can be played from three locations for special events and concerts.

Tuning of the bell
Each bell is individually designed to play a specific note.

Paccard bells, as a result of their unique profile, exacting bronze metal mixture and tuning perfection, are considered to be the “Bell Stradivarius.”

Each bell is individually designed to play a specific note: A tuner precisely adjusts the bell’s harmonics by etching the interior of the bell, reducing its thickness ever so slightly to achieve musical perfection.

The Paccard tuning method requires precision and patience, as the tuner must continuously pause in the etching process to test the bell’s harmonics. This artisanal process has been in use for more than two centuries and creates the exacting musical quality for which Paccard bells are known.