Walking upt’ the pub of a Monday night, and suddenly the bells on the church next door start a round of bell pulling. At first tentative, then resolving into scales, and then building to a wild burst and flow of peals in the (I think) hexatonic set of harmonies. Apparently Monday night is bell practice night.  At first it sounded pleasantly cacophonous and quintessentially C of E, but then I began hearing melodies and syntactical development within the cascades of notes.

I mention this to my walking companion, an old friend, superb jazz musician with encyclopedic knowledge and a fierce ear: “Isn’t it funny how your ear imposes order on random but related sounds?”

“Not ‘alf” he replies, “But this is choreographed – these sequences are written out – there’s about eight of ‘em in there, and they’re playin’ it.”

“You’re joking! There’s about 5 notes to the second – no way they could be pulling ropes and timing the clapper hitting the bell that precisely.”


I defer to his knowledge of both music and England, but I am still not sure that what he says is remotely possible. I am sure that we are meaning-making machines, and that we will impose meaning – subtly or foolishly, for better or for worse – on the random series of events we call a life, a relationship, or even a set of ocean waves of sound breaking against our ears. I hear voices in the actual ocean waves when I am sailing, and hear and feel my cell phone ringing when it isn’t – why should I not impose familiar patterns on these happy clanging rolls of sound?

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