A carillon is a musical instrument composed of at least 23 carillon bells, arranged in chromatic sequence, so tuned as to produce concordant harmony when many bells are sounded together. It is played from a keyboard that allows expression through variation of touch.
Completed in 1914, Sather Tower is the landmark of the University of California, Berkeley. Standing at a foreboding 307 feet tall, visitors may take a short elevator ride and climb 38 stairs to visit its inner workings: the 61-bell carillon. As the world's third tallest bell tower, the Campanile houses one of the largest musical instruments on earth.
Performed three times a day, the bells ring out original and traditional compositions created by legendary and up-and-coming composers alike. A soundtrack - often heard but not listened to by students, faculty, and staff who have become used to the bells — for the campus is created by a handful of bell players or carillonists, and is directed by University Carillonist Jeff Davis, one of only five full time carillonists in the United States. The carillon has been the focus of several albums, with the most recent full-length recording, "All Hail Blue & Gold," released in 2002. Every ten years, Sather Tower hosts the international Berkeley Carillon Festival.
Upon joining the Berkeley Center for New Media as its first Susan B. Miller Fellow, Sarah Stierch was obsessed with Sather Tower, wanting to do a project specifically focused on the carillon during her time at the BCNM. Stierch was connected with Tiffany Ng, a PhD candidate in Musicology with a Designated Emphasis in New Media. Ng was not only an academic, but also a musician, serving as Associate Carillonist on campus. Stierch was intrigued by Ng's interest in electronic music, and saw a connection between artistic expression, experimentation, and opportunities for creating something truly special with Sather Tower.
The two met, and developed the concept for Hack the Bells, as a way to bring artistic and new media focused attention to Sather Tower and the sound and vision of the carillon.