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If there is one sound for me that epitomises Italy it is church bells. And in big cities at least, it seems that there are regular bell ringing sessions throughout the day, each day of the week. Sunday, being the day of worship in the catholic religion, is obviously when the bells ring most abundantly, but each time I visit Italy I am impressed by just how often bells can be heard. On a visit to Verona I took the opportunity to record a few examples.

The first recording was captured high on the walls of Castelvecchio (old castle in Italian) in the historic quarter. Whilst we were walking along the exteriour walls, many church bells began to ring over a period of five to ten minutes, some far away and some much closer. Being well positioned in terms of height, I decided to grab my recorder and try to capture the soundscape. Directly below where I was stood was a pedestrian passageway (actually an old passage that was once part of the castle) where locals were steadily passing by. This gave the recording an added element of interest as I captured a slice of real local life.

A little later on the same day, we were visiting the beautiful Giardino Giusto, a stunning private garden that is open to the public. Although within the city centre, the garden is extremely calm with very little noise from the urban surroundings. It is also very green and is home to a very large number of birds.

I was in the middle of capturing a binaural recording of the birdsong when I heard the church bells begin to ring. It was Five O’Clock, so this must have been the call for the evening services. Because the churches were all about a Kilometre or so away in various directions, the wind carried the sound in waves that affected the perceived volume. It’s an interesting soundscape that is accompanied by the birdsong of the garden’s residents.

– use headphones for optimised listening experience –

It is not only church bells, however, that can be heard ringing in most Italian towns. There also seems to be at least one clock tower that will ring at each quarter hour and in larger towns and cities their numbers seem to multiply. In Piazza Erbe at the centre of Verona’s historic quarter, the city’s main clock tower, Torre dei Lamberti, can be found. For a small fee you can climb up to the top which not only offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the city, but also allows avid field recordists like myself to record the bells as they toll.

As we reached the top, it became evident that there were in fact two different levels with two sets of bells. At the very top was one large bell and on the level below there were a set of three bells (as seen in the photo above). According to the Wikipedia page, the tower had two bells: the smaller one, known as Marangona, signaled fires and the hours of the day, while the largest, called Rengo, was used to call the population to arms or to invoke the city’s councils.

I really wasn’t sure just how much SPL I’d be dealing with so was fairly cautious with both my positioning (I went for the platform below the main bell) and my gain settings. We didn’t really have the time, nor the patience to wait another hour so this was a real hit or miss chance and I didn’t want to end up with a distorted recording (or damaged mics for that matter). Plus it was time for the aperitif, so we were kind of in a rush! The recording turned out to be pretty clean and, on reflection, I probably could have positioned myself a lot closer to the bell itself. Maybe then I would have picked up the sound of mechanism before the bells begun. But we live and learn I guess. I’d also have preferred to have had the platform to myself as at the end of the recording as the tail of the bell ring fades out, we hear a family talking in the background. But again, I couldn’t really ask them to be quiet!

So there we have a few recordings of what, for me, are quintessential sounds of Italy.