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Chinese Chimes

Chinese Chimes are flat with sharp corners like two tiles pieced together. The end result is that the sound fades faster, making it possible to organize the bells into groups and play them as a rhythm instrument. Zeng Houyi's bronze chimes are perhaps the greatest among all the chimes unearthed so far regarding the size and significance.

The bells fill a 60 square-metre area and a total weight of five tons. The heaviest one is 203.6 kg and is 1.5 metres tall, while the smallest one is 2.4 kg and 20.4 cm high. Tests have shown that each bell can produce two different high-pitched notes (a major third and a minor third) depending on where they are struck.

The instrument has a range of five octaves and is one of the earliest instruments with 12 semitones. After 2,500 years in the tomb, the instrument can still play ancient music. The beautiful pitch produced can be modulated, which gives some idea of the musical complexity available even in the early times. Acoustic tests have found that the mixture of tin and lead in the bronze instrument fits with modern metallurgy. Even today, making such bells is by no means an easy job, especially the big bells.

The 1.5 metre high bell would require 136 pottery molds to make a bigger mold, which would be filled with melted bronze water at some 1,000 ℃. The smaller the bell the higher the pitch and volume. Therefore, the chime's effect depends greatly on its size and shape. The bell's shape explains how the chimes can generate two different tones. When the front side is struck, the lateral amplitude is zero, and vice versa. In this way, two tones coexist without interfering with each other.

The unearthed instruments not only have accurate tonality, but also are inscribed with elaborate patterns such as humans, beasts, dragons and words marking the tones of each bell, indicating that the ancient Chinese had already mastered advanced bronze making techniques at the time. It is presumed that the complexity of manufacture prevented the chimes from getting popular and the technique disappeared after the Han Dynasty (206 B. C. - 220 A. D.).