Exploring the Harmonies of Bells and Music: A Conversation with Composer Helen Ottaway

Helen Ottaway pictured at the Abbey Road Studio 2, 2022 


In a fascinating conversation with composer and sound artist Helen Ottaway, we delved into the unique world of bellringing and its intersection with music. Helen shared her experiences and projects that have brought together the melodious sounds of bells with the art of composition. Throughout our conversation, which included excerpts from her music, she also offered some valuable insights and recommendations for bellringers looking to explore new avenues and engage with the wider community.

The Charm of Bellringing:

Helen Ottaway's deep connection with bellringing began in her childhood, as she grew up hearing the resonating sounds of bells regularly. Her father, a vicar, and her sister, an avid bell ringer, contributed to her early exposure to the world of bells. However, it wasn't until later in her life that she discovered her own fascination with incorporating bell sounds into her compositions.

The Influence of Bells in Helen's Work:

The allure of bells and their cultural significance captivated Helen Ottaway, leading her to feature them prominently in her musical endeavours. One project that left a lasting impression on her was inspired by the sunken church bells off the coast of Dunwich in Suffolk. This trilogy of projects, including installations, performances, and promenades, reignited Helen's memories of the sound of bells and their place in her sonic landscape.

Embracing Accidental Beginnings:

Helen Ottaway's journey as a composer and sound artist took an unexpected turn. She stumbled into composition almost by chance, through a fortuitous invitation to create music for a theatrical production in London. This accidental foray into composition served as the catalyst for her love of the fortuitous and the unexpected in both music and life.

Bellringing METHODS: From Systems Music to Musicality:

While Helen has not yet incorporated bell ringing methods into her work, she is intrigued by the process. In a recent conversation with Julian Back, a local bell ringer, she discovered the intricate art of composing a method for bellringing. Writing a bellringing method shares some similarities with systems music, which has influenced Helen's compositional approach. Both involve exploring permutations and systematic processes.

Helen's Recommendations for Bellringers:

Throughout our conversation, Helen Ottaway offered valuable suggestions and recommendations for bellringers looking to embrace new opportunities and engage with wider audiences. Here are her top recommendations:

1. Collaborate with Other Artistic Communities:

Helen emphasized the power of collaboration and the importance of engaging with artists from different disciplines. By teaming up with musicians, composers, or even arts festivals, bellringers can bring a fresh perspective to their craft and showcase the beauty of bell ringing to a broader audience.

2. Open Your Bell Towers to the Public:

One way to create intrigue and attract new enthusiasts to bellringing is by opening tower practices to the public. By welcoming visitors and providing insights into the art of bellringing, communities have the chance to educate and showcase the skill, history, and community spirit behind this unique tradition.

3. Incorporate Bells into Art Installations or Performances:

Following in Helen's footsteps, bellringers can explore the integration of bell sounds into larger artistic projects. Just as Helen incorporated bells into her compositions and soundscapes, bellringers can collaborate with composers or sound artists to create unique musical experiences that celebrate the rich sounds of bells.

4. Utilise Digital Platforms:

In the digital age, bellringers have the opportunity to engage with online communities through websites, social media, and digital platforms. Sharing tutorials, compositions, or even ringtones can help attract new enthusiasts and foster a sense of camaraderie among bellringers worldwide.


Helen Ottaway's journey as a composer and sound artist has brought her to the intersection of music and bellringing. Through her various projects and explorations, she has discovered the beauty and musicality of bells, capturing their essence in her compositions. For bellringers looking to expand their horizons, Helen's recommendations provide a roadmap for embracing collaboration, engaging with different artistic communities, and sharing the captivating sounds of bellringing with the world.

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Cathy Booth
Cathy Booth
Podcast Host
Helen Ottaway
Helen Ottaway