Experimenting with remote handbell ringing

Tower bell ringing is not possible at the moment in the UK and US because of coronavirus. People still seem to be ringing in Australia and New Zealand. Even handbell ringing depends on having a whole band living in the same house. People have been speculating about using videoconferencing systems for remote handbell ringing. Is this possible?

Back in 2013 there was a handbell peal on a video link between Derby and Edinburgh. Tina and I were invited to ring in it, but it took place while we were away on our summer holiday, so we had to decline. That peal used a special high-performance video link between two universities, and I think it was facilitated by a research project on high-speed networking. But is it possible with the kind of standard videoconferencing that many of us are using increasingly at work, especially with the current travel restrictions?

Dorothy and I have just done a little experiment between two rooms in the house, using Zoom. The results were not good. One problem, which is really a show-stopper in itself, is that there was a significant delay over the network, making it impossible to maintain a rhythm. Each of us was ringing our bells as soon as we saw/heard the other person's bells ring, but each of us experienced a long delay (maybe up to a second) between ringing our bells and hearing the other person's bells. The other problem is that after the first strike of each bell, there was a large decrease in the volume, perhaps because the software was trying to reduce feedback. Even when we both used headsets, the same thing happened.

So, we have recorded our Plain Hunt Minimus on BellBoard for posterity, but videoconferencing isn't going to be a substitute for getting together.

Even if there were no delays over the network, another potential problem would be having bells at each end with compatible tuning. In the past, when trying to make rings of 14 or 16 by combining more than one set of bells, I have found that it's possible for two bells from different sets to be marked with the same note but be a semitone apart in their actual pitch. I expect this wouldn't be a problem with two sets from the same founder.

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