Federation Bells Designers Neil McLachlan and Anton Hasell
Bronze-alloy bells on galvanised-steel poles, 2002Owned by Arts Victoria; managed and programmed by City of Melbourne Birrarung Marr, near Exhibition St extension
The Federation Bells installation was commissioned by the Victorian government in 1998, as part of commemorative celebrations for the centenary of Australian federation (1901). Designed by Neil McLachlan and Anton Hasell in collaboration with Swaney Draper Architects, the installation comprises 39 upturned bells of differing sizes, mounted on poles ranging from two to six metres high. The size of each bell determines its pitch, and collectively the pitch ranges over four octaves. Most of the bells are harmonic and very pure in their tone; seven are polytonal, so able to play more than one pitch with a single hammer strike. Unlike most modern Western instruments, the bells are ‘just tuned’, a system that follows a harmonic series in nature and means the bells emit a unique sound; music created for the bells must be composed with this system in mind.
Seven Australian composers were commissioned to create pieces of four to five minutes for the launch of the bells. Computer-controlled hammers strike the bells to the tune of the programmed compositions. In 2008, the City of Melbourne launched a website (www.federationbells.com.au) to allow members of the public to compose their own pieces for the bells. By walking among the bells or listening to them from up to 100 metres away, visitors have different aural experiences of the music.
Eminent scientist and Australian of the Year (2000) Sir Gustav Nossal launched the Federation Bells installation on 26 January 2002. In 2005, the poles underwent a structural upgrade to ensure the longevity of the work.