Campanile celebrates centennial with seismically modulated performance

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Jessica Gleason/Staff

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Hundreds gathered in front of the Campanile on Tuesday to celebrate the tower’s 100th birthday, watching live performances of music and lights that harnessed real-time seismic activity from the Hayward Fault line.

Towering over the campus and the city of Berkeley at 307 feet tall, Sather Tower — known more commonly as the Campanile — is the third-tallest bell and clock tower in the world. The historic landmark was designed by architect John Galen Howard and completed in 1915.

The Campanile houses a 61-bell grand carillon, funded and assembled over the last century by various philanthropic gifts. On four of its seven floors, the tower also hosts a collection of more than 30,000 fossils, most excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits.

A computer program created by Jeff Lubow at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies, or CNMAT, streamed data aggregated from a seismometer in the Hayward Fault, made available by a server maintained by Sanjay Krishnan and Ken Goldberg at the Berkeley Center for New Media. Using a mapping function pioneered by David Wessel, the data modulates the intensity of the lights on the tower’s west wall, simultaneously generating various notes of the electronic bells.

The event was dedicated to Wessel, one of the founders of CNMAT, who passed away last October, Lubow said in an email.

The virtual bells accompanied a live carillon duet played by Jeff Davis, the university carillonist since 2000, and graduate student Tiffany Ng. Speakers installed in the tower for the event created the effect of a third “ghost performer” with synthesized notes, Lubow said.

“My own life has been closely associated with the tower for many decades, and it feels as if I’m honoring a venerable member of my family,” Davis said in an email.

Other upcoming events to celebrate the Campanile’s centennial include carillon concerts, a Bancroft Library exhibit and an essay contest. An interactive website honoring the tower was launched last month.

“I’ve been here for 20 years, and the Campanile has become a regular part of my life — that means I ignore it,” said Edmund Campion, campus professor of music composition and director of CNMAT. “This set of events wakes me up. … It’s about becoming re-aware that the Campanile exists.”

Davis hopes that in the future, the university will provide greater care for the Campanile and the carillon to preserve them for another century as campus treasures.

“Given that it is used to play eighteen recitals a week, is constantly exposed to the elements from the Golden Gate, and is central to the life of the campus, it is time that the funds are raised and spent to bring the instrument up to its full glory,” he said.

Contact Amy Jiang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article stated that the Campanile stands directly above the Hayward fault line. In fact, the Hayward fault line runs east of the Campanile, directly below California Memorial Stadium.

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  • Pixilicious

    I’m guessing that most on campus are at an age where the Campanile doesn’t mean much to them; I know it didn’t for me when I was that age. The next time you see it, try looking at it as you would 30 years from now — with different priorities and perspectives — because it really is an awesome structure. Of course, that’s a little like asking a person blind since birth to imagine sight. You’ll get there one day, though.

    Regardless, there are other bell towers around but you’d have to go to Venice, Italy to see anything like this campanile. Do your best to appreciate it while you can.