Music by the Thames

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At the edge of the water, at London’s Trinity Buoy Wharf, I came across what I thought was an old bell. There are actually two bells: one is hanging down above the water and the second is inverted on top of it. A rod attached to the clapper goes through the centre into the Thames. It’s close to an old lighthouse and a lightship, near to the yard where they used to mend the marker buoys that dot Britain’s coastline. Some of those buoys were fitted with a bell which sounded when waves bobbed against them. I thought perhaps this was an old warning bell for sailors as, every now and again, when the waves sloshed against the clapper-rod, it rang with a resonant tone like a soulful church bell.

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Then I noticed the information board.  It is actually a contemporary musical art installation that works by using the waves to strike the bell. ‘Tide Bell’ was designed by sculptor Marcus Vergette and design engineer Dr Neil McLachlan. “The bell is rung by the river to mark each high tide, and uniquely, from just one strike, sounds different notes one after the other to form a rich melody.” It is one of series of such bells placed around the UK coastline, part of Marcus Vergette’s ‘Time and Tide’ project, which aims to raise awareness of climate change. Rising sea levels caused by global warming will change the sounds created by the bells. So it is a warning bell … for us all.

It is just one of the sculptures found at Trinity Buoy Wharf where a thriving arts community can be found working in the old brick buildings and in shipping containers which have been converted into studios.

Further along the wharf, I found a second art piece which also creates music powered by the waves of the Thames. ‘Floodtide’ was created by Andrew Baldwin and John Eacott and it makes music determined by the tide. A sensor submerged from the pier at Trinity Buoy Wharf reads tidal flow and that data is converted into musical notation that can be read from screens by musicians.

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I like the look of the sculpture against the surrounding buildings and I imagined I could hear music. I thought there were some tapping sounds and chords emanating from it but the waves, the boats and nearby building works were creating a music of their own so I am not sure.

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If you go to the Floodtide website you can find out more about the music created by the tide. There is an archive of recordings of past performances and you can even download the live score and play along.

Handel may have created Water Music to be played on the River Thames but here you can play Water Music created by the River Thames!