I conceived of the Bells after dismembering a telephone.
Telephones meant a lot to my family. Both my mother and my stepfather worked for AT&T's local Bell, SNET. Unlike the midcentury New York Bell, which was plagued with problems from bad service to clogged lines, from the Fifties through the Seventies Connecticut residents enjoyed some of the best telephone service on Earth. The telephone itself was a holy object: you didn't poke inside it, although I did quite a job on a just-like-real Western Electric toy phone once, you left it for the Western Electric Man who would come in, take away your old black rotary, and give you a spanking new phone in colors like Hot Line (dark red) and Coffee with Cream (beige). If your phone ailed, he'd do some kind of magic over it, and it would be healed.
So it was with some amusement that my mother found me reading about Captain Crunch and the boxes in the Nineties, and I felt a kind of homecoming, learning about UNIX and C from my good mentor Jim Simpson, who was one of the last of the Old Breed in SNET (heck, he hacked in a tailored suit, and yet revered Tolkien. Beat that.) I begged him for his lineman's handset. Now that my mother is dead and I don't know where Jimpson is, I'm learning UNIX and C in honest and for credit.
And it was with a degree of forbidden pleasure I took apart an olive Touch-Tone phone circa 1982, taken from a house that was having its fone service modernized.
The only parts I could find to keep was the ringer and the handset. There just isn't that much out there on the web about gutting fones for fun as opposed to selling and updating older vintage ones, and until I learn more electronics there isn't much I can identify that might be of use, however, I'm still keeping the bits of the olive desk fone and the wall model.
For awhile I simply rang the little bells by perching them on sharpened pencils and hitting them with the eraser of a third pencil. Hitting them against each other, Tibetan-style, didn't work. They're tuned to the same notes as a doorbell (perhaps by design) and it seemed to me to be a fine set of bells for a wind or door chime, particularly for Headquarters. Accordingly, I bought a package of four wooden beads of a good size (I was looking for cork, but couldn't find any) as strikers and a length of jute stringing twine from Michael's, along with a large oval plywood finial. Overall, I paid less than $5.
After trial stringing the beads, it became clear that mere knots on a single line were not enough to hold them together: I needed more beads. Also, I began to think about the "look" of the project. Somehow, the idea of gutting a phone and making windchimes had a Dangerous Visions/Barbarella/Arcosanti/Dhalgren-era SF postapocalyptic sound and feel -- cinematically, you might hear the sound of a phone or doorbell ringing in a desolate city, which turns out to be a windchime outside a neo-primitive hut made of salvage and scrap, blowing against an overcast sky. Also, using beads with an earth-toned raku look would reference the Mid-Century design heritage of the phone they came from, and the jute twine I was using to string them. The two remaining beads I might use as strikers with another pair of bells, but I think they might make extremely good head and tail pieces, and my new set of design sketches will reflect that.
So far, the major engineering and design problems I foresee are:
- Getting the weight of beads, etc., right. Too light and the assembly won't get enough momentum to ring the bells, too heavy and the thing won't swing.
- Reshaping the oval into a more "teardrop" or "rolling triangle" shape. This is purely cosmetic, but would look more mid-century/neo-primitive than the more formal oval. Should this be done with a hacksaw blade or an X-acto knife? Also boring a hole for hanging with no drill available -- a paper punch might work, but I wouldn't want to split the wood.
- Painting the finial. So far, I have some acrylic paints with a glossy finish. I might want to include other textures as well, but I'm saving that for after I've selected the beads.
- Passing too many cords through the hole of the bell. So far I've passed one or two, but four might dampen the sound. (Small hard beads might stabilize the bells, but leave the large wooden beads to strike.) Additional cords would allow me to vary the space between the bells with macrame.
- Determining the ideal length of the chime. A foot is too short, three feet is too long, probably between a foot and a half and two.
If this all works out well, I'll probably sell another one on Etsy
, possibly with a little book describing all this!