Rural bells, Nes in Romerike

Yesterday I participated in a field recording session with the Norwegian Radio in Nes in Romerike for the radio program  “Museum” on NRK P2. The theme will be rural bells, or food bells, as an example of sound and soundscapes in history. Nes in Romerike had a tradition of buklokker, as the bells were called there, and the local historical society has contributed to the revitalization of bells; some farmers still use them for certain occasions. Astrid Skedsmo at Old Hvam Museum has learnt the skill of traditional bell ringing from women in the village. Originally the bells were used for calling the workmen in from the fields to common meals. Today we visited farms, where we recorded bells and interviewed their owners.

Frank Meyer, the director of The Norwegian Labour Movement Archives and Library, also participated in the recordings. As a historian he has a notable interest in aural history. Research on sound focuses on senses and thus bodily experiences, as a different approach to traditional historical research. Meyer is the editor of the book Norges lyder: Stabbursklokker og storbykakofoni (“The Sounds of Norway: Village Bells and Metropolitan Cacophony”), which will soon be published by The Norwegian Institute of Local History. My own contribution to this book is an article about rural bells, where I write about the history and use of these bells. 

Rural bells belonged to historic soundscapes which are different compared to modern ones. Their sound once filled the landscape and defined time and space in rural communities. Workers as well as horses recognized the bells from their own farms. It was – amongst other factors – the arrival of the tractor that ended the tradition of village bells, in the mid-20st century.  It is perhaps tempting for us to imagine the rural soundscape with bells in a somewhat romantic light. But in reality the bells were an expression of rationality and efficiency in agricultural production. To many workers they represented the sound of hard work and, perhaps, the “fate” of being tied to farm work for life. 

More about rural bells in the radio program “Museum”, led by Jan Erik Ihlebæk, and in Norges lyder.

Stay tuned!

Gjermund Kolltveit

Music archaeologist, ethnomusicologist, musician – Nesodden, Norway. Main research interests: sound and sound tools (e.g. jew’s harps, lyres, ringing stones, bells) in human culture and soundscapes.

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