The Velvet Bell

Photo of Michael Zerang at Au Topsi Pohl, Berlin Germany. September 25, 2020
Photo’s by Cristina Marx, Au Topsi Pohl, Berlin, DE – 26 September 2020

The summer of 2020, during the early days of the Covid lockdown, I was given an artifact from a shuttered Chicago music venue, The Velvet Lounge, by Andy Pierce, a personal assistant to the late, great saxophonist and composer Fred Anderson, who ran the club. The artifact is the brass sconce of the chandelier that hung over the stage for several decades during the clubs existence. After the club shut down, this artifact was destined for the trash heap, but Andy held on to it as a keepsake and gave it to me for safe keeping.

Velvet Lounge Chandelier
Velvet Lounge Chandelier with highlighted sconce

As a composer and percussionist who often performed at the Velvet Lounge and was greatly influenced by Fred Anderson, I began to “play” on this sconce with a variety of sticks and mallets. It became clear to me very quickly that the sound of this “bell” was quite lovely. I began to develop different techniques to explore its sonic possibilities. However, one flaw in this sconce was that there had been a chunk cut out of the circumference to facilitate the electrical wires of the chandelier, resulting in the bell being cracked. I tried to have this crack repaired but ultimately the sound was diminished to the point where I could only produce quiet sounds, and although they were quite beautiful in sonority, they were very limited in dynamic range.

Photo of Michael Zerang at Au Topsi Pohl, Berlin Germany. September 25, 2020

I travelled to Berlin, Germany to give the premiere solo concert on September 25, 2020, at the venue, Au Topsi Pohl, that was met with enthusiasm by a small crowd who were truly shocked that I had managed to enter the country during the strictest period of lockdown. Soon after that, I realized that the bell was too fragile for further performance and I set about trying to have another one fabricated, as well as scouring brass fixture shops in search of something comparable. I had reasonable success and the Velvet Bell Family grew to include The Circus Bell, The Ghost Bell, The Bumble Bee Bell, The Dinner Bell, The Bralido Bell (a set of 5), and several miscellaneous pieces.

Since receiving the Velvet Bell, I have been working as a soloist to learn and explore the sonic possibilities of this instrument, to develop new techniques, to expand this approach as I collected newer versions of the instrument, and to develop compositions.

Photo of Michael Zerang at Au Topsi Pohl, Berlin Germany. September 25, 2020

I will begin touring this solo project in 2023. I would be happy to bring it far and wide. Please contact me if you are interested in presenting The Velvet Bell Project!