The ringing of “Hey Jude” can once again be heard across the Green.
The Baker Library bells had been on a three-week hiatus due to electrical problems on the bell tower computer. Kimo Johnson, operator of the bells since June, was unable to fix the bells because recent library renovations had caused the stairwell leading to the bell tower to be taken out.
Johnson finally took matters into his own hands after receiving many e-mail inquiries about the bells. “I contacted the supervisor. They put up a ladder.”
The bells are run on a 4-year-old Macintosh computer by a program written at Dartmouth. Plans are underway to upgrade the tower computer to a new iMac.
Johnson, a graduate student in Electro-Acoustic music, said that songs are played at random from a folder of 20-30 tunes, but it is easy to make requests. “When I get a request, I’ll make an arrangement of it for the bells.”
Some of the more popular pieces played include The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and the Dartmouth “Alma Mater.”
The bells even take special requests. For instance, the 16 bells can be found playing “Happy Birthday” on President Wright’s birthday.
Maintenance for the bells is relatively low, Johnson said. “There’s not much. When the computer goes down, I have to go up there [to fix it].” He also noted that the bells have to be turned every year so that the hammers don’t wear out the same spot on each bell.
Before the 1970s, the bells ran on a much lower-tech system.
According to music professor Jon Appleton, the bells previously ran on rolls of punch paper. Holes in the paper triggered the bell mechanism.
There was also a keyboard in the tower, so people could play “instantaneous music” on the bells.
The first tunes to hit Baker Tower were popular songs of the 1930s. About two decades later, the wife of the then-Glee Club director had the idea of punching the Alma Mater on a roll of paper.
In the 1970s, the aging paper rolls started to break. They were replaced throughout the years by a series of minicomputers, and the song selection was updated.
Appleton stressed one unusual thing about the Baker Bells — they are “real bells,” meaning that even though they are run by a computer, the sound of the bells is still genuine. Many other institutions use “electronic bells,” which are heard over a loudspeaker.
Songs for the Baker Bells can be requested by blitzing “Bells.”