Silent Echoes: Notre Dame Comes to Wells Cathedral

Silent Echoes: Notre Dame Comes to Wells Cathedral

Bill Fontana’s “Silent Echoes: Notre Dame” comes to Wells Cathedral

11 May – 3 July

The iconic sound sculpture “Silent Echoes: Notre Dame” by renowned American sound artist Bill Fontana is set to make its UK debut at Wells Cathedral from May 11 to July 3, 2023. The installation, originally commissioned for a partnership between the Pompidou Centre and IRCAM in Paris, has been specially adapted by Fontana for the historic setting of Wells Cathedral’s medieval Undercroft.

“Silent Echoes: Notre Dame” is a response to the devastating fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in April 2019. Currently reduced to silence during the rebuilding, the cathedral’s ten bells nonetheless remain extraordinary recesses of sound. Each one responds through its individual tonality to the noises of the restoration worksite, the wind, and the murmurs of the city.

Using seismic accelerators attached directly to the metal of each bell, Fontana uses these swirling aural vibrations as the raw material for a multi-layered, ever-changing soundscape.

The installation consists of sixteen speakers placed around the vaulted octagonal space through which the sounds are mixed. Bill Fontana says he has always been fascinated by those “hidden silences or sounds hidden within” that we don’t usually have access to.

The bells here resound in waves of texture; a sonic tapestry creating a joyful or meditative, and often emotional, response. Through them, he reveals the richness of timbres at the edge of human hearing and explores the role of sound in our perception of space. Initially a student of the radical composer John Cage in New York, Bill Fontana is now regarded as a pioneer in the field of sound sculpture and his work is exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. In 2006, Fontana presented “Harmonic Bridge” in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, a work that used vibration sensors to reveal the complexity of sounds hidden within the structure of the London Millennium foot bridge.

The resulting soundscape revealed the hidden sonic qualities of the structure and its surroundings, demonstrating Fontana’s ability to reveal the hidden musicality of a built environment. Four years later, Fontana presented ‘River Sounding’ at Somerset House which invited visitors on a journey through the hidden sound worlds of the River Thames.

The recent emergence of video in Fontana’s work also serves as an enriched representation rather than a literal illustration of the places evoked. Projected into Wells Cathedral, a modulating aerial view of Paris’s Notre Dame creates unique multi-sensory juxtapositions. Visitors can create their own dialogue as they move among the loudspeakers.


“We are thrilled to be hosting the UK debut of ‘Silent Echoes: Notre Dame’ in the Undercroft,” said the Venerable Anne Gell, the Acting Dean of Wells. “This is an incredibly moving and thought-provoking installation which allows visitors to experience the sounds of one of the world’s most iconic cathedrals in a completely new and unique way. We are honoured to be able to showcase this work of art in such a historic and meaningful setting.”


The project is a triumphant example of local organisations working in partnership to make things happen. We are grateful to Bill Fontana, IRCAM, Southern & Partners and the Établissement Publique for making this installation possible and also to our generous donors. We are also grateful to Project Factory and Wells Art Contemporary for their visionary commitment to attracting international art projects to Wells.

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