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Digital technology brings 2,400-year-old Chinese bells to life
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11:20, November 10, 2007

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The ancient sounds of a set of 2,400-year-old bells are chiming in central China thanks to the wonders of digital technology.

At the 7th China Arts Festival being held in central China's Hubei Province, digital technology has captured the sounds of a precious set of bronze bells and their ancient tones are one of the highlights of the ongoing gala.

Using high-definition microphones, the Hubei Provincial Museum recorded the sounds of the ancient set of bells from the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.). It transformed them into digital code which was stored in a soundtrack database with the help of midi technology.

The sound of the bells drew great public acclaim when the technology was used to play the Beethoven classic "Ode to Joy" at the festival which is being held in Wuhan and four other Hubei Province cities.

"The duplication took us about four months as the ancient bells were so precious that we had to try our best to strike every bell carefully during the recording," said Zhang Xiang, the person in charge of the bell display at the museum.

Ye Heshan, a lucky visitor who was among the first to play the bells on a digital keyboard, said: "It's unbelievable that the music from these famous ancient bells flows out from under my fingers."

In pressing a note on a keyboard, an image of an individual bell projected on the wall swings via animation to show the playing process of the instrument.

In 1978, the chimes were unearthed from the tomb of the Marquisof Zeng in Suizhou, Hubei Province. With a total weight of 2,500 kilograms, the set consists of 65 pieces and is the world's heaviest musical instrument. Each bell can produce two notes of three intervals apart.

The bronze masterpiece is regarded as one of the major archaeological discoveries of the 20th century and a wonder in theworld's musical history because of its outstanding sound quality.

Since the 1980s, about a dozen replicas of the chimes have been made around the world. They are often played with Western musical instruments or other Chinese ethnic instruments in symphonies, causing a great sensation globally.

"However, any replication activities will cause a certain degree of damage to the original set," Zhang said. "But the chance to listen to the melodious music it plays should not belong to only a small group of people; instead we must think of a good way to let more people know about it or even play it."

"Digital technology helps us solve that problem. It reproduces the exact sound of the bells and will not cause any damage to the precious cultural heritage."

Experts believe the bronze chimes are the world's most stable instruments. Fidelity of sound can be ensured as long as the bronze itself is not damaged.

A recent examination revealed the bell quality remained stable and accurate, which provided the basis of the successful digital reproduction.

Recently, digital technology has been widely used to give the public closer access to cultural heritages in China. For example, virtual technology has enabled the public to see into every corner of the Forbidden City. Elsewhere, people can get a glimpse of the world cultural heritage Koguryo Tombs in Jilin Province, which is not open to the public, through the technology.

During China's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), advanced technologies are being widely used to give people more opportunities to appreciate the extensive catalogue of Chinese ancient cultural heritage, according to the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Source: Xinhua

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