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Licata, Sicily ("A Bell for Adano")

2015/9/17 — 14:43

My search for bells brought me to the fishing town of Licata in southern Sicily. We are currently observing one of the hottest Italian summers on record. Here the air has a smell of burnt diesel and rotten fish. The serene beaches that dot the coastline of Licata were among the key military objectives of Operation Husky in WWII. There are different ways of looking at a landscape. One could focus on its beauty, one could also see the terrors of the forces of nature. In 1943 writer and journalist John Hersey accompanied the allied forces on their Sicilian landing as a war correspondent. Returned to America a transformed man Hersey produced his first novel "A Bell for Adano," which won him a Pulitzer Prize. A cinematic adaptation starring John Hodiak and Gene Tierney soon followed. While Hemingway’s “paper wars” (his own words) are full of grisly and realistic details, Hersey’s painted romantic and idealized pictures of good people in the worst of times. Adano – a fictional Italian coastal city that was modeled after Licata – lost its city hall bell to the fascists. When the allied forces rolled in, more so than food, shelter, or anything else the people of Adano demanded a new bell. Without their bell the people of Adano did not know when to bake, to drive, or to work the field. Hersey’s fictional city bell was based on an actual 700 years old bell that once adorned Palazzo Di Citta in Licata, which was melted down by Mussolini for metal and restored after the war. I spent most of my time making recordings and sound sketches of the city bell. I also recorded the bells at the Cathedral of Saint Angelo – the patron saint of the town. In Hersey’s novel, it was through an appearance at the Sant’Angelo that Major Joppolo – the protagonist of the story – gained the trust of the people of Adano. Other locations I made recordings at included Palazzo San Girolamo, the Poliscia Beach, a public square near Cappella de Cristo Nero, and the Castle of Sant’Angelo.

This is it - the bell tower from John Hersey's "A Bell for Adano" at Palazzo Di Citta. The Hollywood adaptation of the novel opens with a scene at the city hall.

This is it - the bell tower from John Hersey's "A Bell for Adano" at Palazzo Di Citta. The Hollywood adaptation of the novel opens with a scene at the city hall.

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The beautiful beaches that dot the coastline of Licata are the Allied Forces' first landing sites during Operation Husky in WWII.

The beautiful beaches that dot the coastline of Licata are the Allied Forces' first landing sites during Operation Husky in WWII.

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Both the novel and its Hollywood adaptation would come across as insensitive and historically presumptuous to the contemporary viewer. They were products of a time when the people of America needed reassurance. Today warfare is experienced as media spectacles, as around-the-clock and live streams of seductive sounds and images. Those of us living in large metropolis are quite insulated from the visceral realities of conflicts. I am reminded to tread lightly between romanticisation of warfare, and the sort of knee-jerk judgments that art has no place in making. The truth is probably somewhere in the contradiction. At Sant’Angelo, to my initial horror, the 5pm "bell" was a severely distorted recording that came from low quality speakers. But after a while I found it to be a rather musical discord.

At Sant’Angelo, to my initial horror, the 5pm "bell" was a severely distorted recording that came from low quality speakers. But after a while I found it to be a rather musical discord.

At Sant’Angelo, to my initial horror, the 5pm "bell" was a severely distorted recording that came from low quality speakers. But after a while I found it to be a rather musical discord.

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Artist website - www.thismusicisfalse.com
Project website - www.bmw-art-journey.com
BMW Facebook page - www.facebook.com/bmw
 

 

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