History of "Radial Transmission"

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History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby JohnGouwens on Mon Oct 20, 2014 10:58 pm

Not long ago, on the GCNA listserve e-mail lists, Terry McGee posed the following question:

Can anyone tell me how old is the notion of radial transmission (where the action connects radially to the bells, rather than orthogonally via rotating transmission bars)? Do we know who first came up with it?

And, it it was a long time ago, who first put it into regular practice in recent times, and about when?


To this, Gideon Bodden responded somewhat cryptically:

Such a radial transmission was described in 1660 at the tower of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, which had a carillon by François and Pieter Hemony, built two years earlier, in 1658.

-Gideon Bodden.


To no one's surprise, I was next:

This is the sort of discussion that would go well in the GCNA forum, and I'll move it over there in a few days. Meanwhile, I presume, knowing somewhat the original location of bells at the Oude Kerk, that the directed cranks pointed out to bells hanging in the may openings of that (circular) tower. Certainly, that arrangement of bells makes a radial transmission the sensible choice, though the question is, are we talking about radial quadrants (directed cranks) or was the Oude Kerk connected with the always-radial "broek" system? Certainly, the latter isn't the same sort of solution Terry is describing.

Roller-bar transmissions were found in some older automatic playing drum installations, even in some carillons where the manual playing involved a broek system. (Interestingly, some other carillons are the converse - broek automatic connections, roller-bar for manual playing.)

The rare examples of 19th-century carillon actions weren't standardized enough to establish much of anything, but my understanding is that they tended to be roller-bar transmission. In the 20th century, by the time the Continental bellfounders entered the carillon market (just after World War II), Petit & Fritsen used directed quadrants, though not very efficiently - they were often applied to bells hung in long horizontal rows, introducing much slopiness in the action. Paccard over the years did some of each, though many of their earlier efforts (those involving Arthur Bigelow, such as Jackson and Sewanee) had roller-bar transmissions. They did some directed quadrant actions also, though not necessarily in relation to circular arrangements of bells.

The big change came with the 1986 renovation at Albany, New York, where Richard Strauss went about making several design improvements, including very sturdy directed quadrant transmission. That said, the arrangement of the bells was still essentially the old one - horizontal rows. It was something very new, though, for Taylor to build a directed quadrant action. Their work, and that of Gillett & Johnston, had always been roller-bar transmissions before, at least for most of the range. With the Cohasset renovation and enlargement, more of the smaller bells were arranged radially, so that the bells would be relatively close to the transmission wires associated with them. That principle has since been refined and improved in various ways in the work since that time by Meeks & Watson, Paccard, and Petit & Fritsen. (It is worth noting that prior to the Albany and Cohasset projects, the carillons in which Rick Watson designed actions - including many Verdin installations of Petit & Fritsen bells - were roller-bar transmissions.) Either design can be done well or can be done poorly. I would argue that applying directed quadrants to bells hung on a rectangular frame is a mistake. A radial transmission really should have a radial arrangement of bells to have any advantage.

- John Gouwens


To this, Rick Watson sent me an extensive communication individually. I won't reproduce it here in its entirety, since I don't have his permission to do so (though it is very interesting!). I will, however, include many points he made:

1) The term "radial" transmission was coined by Richard Strauss to apply to an action that involved centrally-placed transmission with directed cranks on better bearings, engineered so that the height of the cranks was optimal for each bell. As he pointed out also, this became far easier to execute with CAD programs than it had been in the past. (I rather suspect the "radial transmission" to which Gideon refers was likelier the also-radial broek system, though indeed there is some documentation (which Gideon knows first-hand) of directed cranks being employed as original equipment on one or two Hemony carillons.

2) Several earlier carillon projects of Rick Watson's did involved directed cranks and elements of radial design, notably his first big Verdin project, at St. Thomas, Whitemarsh, where Lee 't Hart, as consultant specified P&F style directed cranks. Rick came up with his own improvement on that system for that project. McDonough School involves a roller-bar action but with directed cranks going to the bells in the North and South window openings. (The same is true of the Metz Memorial Carillon - Eijsbouts - at Indiana University.)

3) Sometimes physical factors have led to carillons (not just by Meeks & Watson, either) employing radial or at least directed cranks in the treble range and roller-bars in the lower range or vice versa. (The low ceiling in Morristown made it necessary to use straight beams and roller-bars in the treble range, for example.)


So, how about it? Let's hear from folks! - John Gouwens
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Re: History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby FrancesNewell on Mon Oct 20, 2014 11:41 pm

Can you post any photos or illustrations of these different transmissions?
I wonder how the action is affected by these various transmissions, and therefore the musical expression possible on each.How is the sound quality affected by different transmissions?
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Re: History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby JohnGouwens on Tue Oct 21, 2014 3:44 pm

The short answer is that we'll get the best sonority out of the bells, especially the more sensitive trebles, if we can allow the cleanest possible rebound of the clapper off of the bell once it is struck. Any aspect of the action that causes a clapper to linger, will cause it to re-strike a vibrating bell and in fact to damp the ringing a bit. The lighter the treble bell, the more of a problem this is, being particularly acute in older English carillons, and in the trebles of van den Gheyn bells (a little - those are mostly successful) and Hemony bells. The post World War II trebles from Petit & Fritsen, Eijsbouts, and Paccard are so much heavier that they are less sensitive to this, but in fact, they also can be affected. The Paccard trebles at Ball State University do not ring as well as they really could and should, because there are 30 or so feet of vertical wires as well as the directed quadrants between the clappers and the keys. Nevertheless, that is very much a radial design (designed, in fact, by Richard Strauss during his time at Verdin). I post a link to a photo showing the radial arrangement (on curved beams) of the Ball State bells.

Image

Here's a view of the action of some of the larger bells at Ball State. The quadrants are held in cradles mounted on parts of the frame, and in some areas, mounted on sturdy steel tubes cut to length to position them for the correct wire angles.

Image

(continued)
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Re: History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby JohnGouwens on Tue Oct 21, 2014 3:45 pm

On carillons where the trebles are closer, that arrangement would certainly allow the trebles to ring quite freely. On carillons where bells are hung in long, straight rows, using directed quadrants leads to rather long horizontal wires. Note the following picture (not telling where this is, but it was at a congress not too long ago). Some trebles are along the corner of a square frame - and the hoizonal wires aren't entirely even, but they are arranged so that there is a fairly constant distance between neighboring bells. Toward the left, notice that the smallest (and thus most sensitive) trebles are in one straight row, and if you take a careful look, you can see that the bells closest to the quadrants have nice short wires, but the bells on the ends of the row have quite long wires, which will tend to bounce and "gallop" when you play them. The unevenness of those disparate lengths is a problem, but the bigger problem is that the sloppiness of response that results from the vibrating wires making the clappers re-strike the bells (very quickly - you wouldn't perceive it as a separate stroke). In short, the following picture is an example of a poorly-executed direct quadrant transmission. The design of the quadrants is interesting to compare. At Ball State, the quadrant assemblies sit atop cradles mounted on beams or in some cases on steel tubes, all cut to length and carefully engineered beforehand. The photo below has quadrant assemblies held from above by a stalk that is inserted into a mounting block. The height is then adjusted onsite, and it may be turned in any direction, since the down wire is directly in line with the mounting stalk. That assembly is then fixed in position with a set screw - all visible here. Credit where due, that is a Petit & Fritsen design, though other companies have also used it. When done well, with sturdy materials and good bearings, it is effective. Like anything else, if it's cheaply made, with flimsy parts, it's not so good! (This photo may not be of a P&F carillon, FYI.)

Image

(continued)
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Re: History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby JohnGouwens on Tue Oct 21, 2014 3:47 pm

Here's a back view of the same carillon:

Image
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Re: History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby JohnGouwens on Tue Oct 21, 2014 3:51 pm

So, what should be done in the case of bells which for one reason or another are arranged in horizontal rows? That's where a roller-bar transmission is a better solution, as that can usually be executed in such a way as to keep the horizontal wires short. Here's a photo from Culver which shows that:

Image
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Re: History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby JohnGouwens on Tue Oct 21, 2014 4:01 pm

Note that Rick Watson referred to projects where he has employed some of each design, based on the physical situation in the tower. Ideally, a truly radial arrangement, with well-made directed quadrants, is preferable, since a roller-bar transmission adds the mass (and torsion problems) of the roller-bars. The directed quadrants eliminate the roller-bar completely, and tend to involve only one or two bearings. Many roller-bars involve three, four, or even five bearings to support their entire length solidly. On the other hand, some very well-designed roller-bar transmissions are designed with two bearings, one very near the lever for the down wire, and one very near the lever connecting to the clapper. Rick Watson refers to that design as "point-to-point," and interestingly, it is based on the transmission design that Gillett & Johnston used in 1926 at Park Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. (A few years later, when the carillon was moved to the new Riverside Church and enlarged, the new transmission didn't have that same clever design characteristic - nor did any later G&J so far as I've ever seen.) Sorry to say, I don't have a photo of a point-to-point transmission. If someone has such a photo to post, that would be most welcome!
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Re: History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby JohnGouwens on Tue Oct 21, 2014 4:05 pm

Here is a really clear photo of a relatively recent Petit & Fritsen transmission (La Porte, Indiana), which features those stalk-mounted directed quadrants and a radial arrangement of the bells. It is very, very responsive to play!

Image
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Re: History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby FrancesNewell on Tue Oct 21, 2014 8:14 pm

Thank-you, John, this is amazing!
Rick Watson's point-to-point transmission sounds like it would give the smoothest cleanest action, without bounce backs
I would think that the shorter the wire from lever to clapper, the cleaner the strike.
I would imagine that on the photo where there is a lot of difference in the lengths of those horizontal wires pulling the clappers, it would be very hard to play a smooth line!
Interesting that you say that the treble bells are more sensitive to bounce backs. I get more bounce backs on my lower bells if Strike them too hard!
What is considered the main advantage of radial transmissions, as opposed to straight vertical wire from baton to lever, then horizontal wire from lever to clapper, bells in a straight row?
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Re: History of "Radial Transmission"

Postby JohnGouwens on Fri Oct 24, 2014 12:37 am

I should qualify this a bit. The bad example I showed above is certainly not the worst I've ever seen, but it doesn't handle as well as it could with a better design. People can still manage to play it well. With modern CAD (computer-aided design) software, it's much easier than it used to be to design either system well. In the old days, designing a frame with bells hung on straight beams was probably easier to do than designing a radial transmission, with the accommodations you have to make to get the angles right for all the wires, and rolled beams (bent into a curve) were also probably harder to obtain. Again, if you hang the bells in rows, the roller-bar system is better. If you arrange the bells to be close to their quadrants, a well-designed radial transmission is superior, as you then have eliminated the extra mass of the roller-bars. (Compare the photos of Culver and La Porte above.)

As explained above, the physical characteristics of the tower are a factor, so there isn't a simple "one best way" answer that applies to all situations. Assuming one has ample space in the belfry, with good tonal egress, a radial transmission, with the console and transmission wires in the center, is best, as the sound is distributed rather evenly on both sides. If bells are hung in long rows, there is a tendency for bells off in the corners to be acoustically isolated from the listeners on the opposite side. When the space is ample, that's not a problem, though. For example, Washington Cathedral has a very spacious belfry, and sides of the frame are (if memory serves) about 8 or more feet in from the exterior walls (and the openings). That is an older instrument (1963) with fairly long rows of bells and a good roller-bar transmission, but no bells are isolated by being too far to one side in the belfry. (On the other hand, that belfry is low enough in the tower - and that's over the crossing of the cathedral - that it's not easy to hear that carillon from the ground.
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