01 July 2007


Making a Bridge Sing

The New York Times currently features this article (registration required, although if you act quietly and quickly and promise not to tell, there may be a copy laying about here) about composer Joseph Bertolozzi's working with the Mid-Hudson (Franklin D. Roosevelt) Bridge near Poughkeepsie, New York,
...to transform the span into an orchestra, compose a piece for it, then actually perform the work live with a small army of percussionists. It is a musical undertaking on a vast scale and one that has brought oddly harmonious marriages among the worlds of art and government, music and engineering.

Mr. Bertolozzi, 48, has been meticulously harvesting a multitude of sounds from the structure: not just the cables, which on playback create woo-wooing effects or sounds like a bass guitar, but the spindles below guardrails, the rails themselves, the interior and flanges of innumerable I-beams, connecting metal plates and the grates between walkways.

He sent mounds of steel pellets down the interior of a 315-foot steel tower to create a rain-stick effect. He collected clanks from the “Hudson River Estuary” sign, with its blue sturgeon emblem. An organist as well as a composer, Mr. Bertolozzi even hopes to turn large upright conduits for power lines into rough organ pipes.

“I only play big instruments,” he said.
Bertolozzi convinced officials to let him do a demo project using audio samples from the bridge. The result, Bridge Funk, is here for the listening from the composer's space at www.newmusicjukebox.com.

As one who thumps just about any exposed piece of metal to see how it rings, I am completely delighted by the whole idea of this project. I'm marking Poughkeepsie on my calendar for September 2009.

Along the music and engineering lines, Bertolozzi's notes include this:
The bridge’s designer, Ralph Modjeski, was a highly skilled pianist (he was a classmate of the famous Polish virtuoso Paderewski). He ultimately chose engineering as his profession and became one of the 20th century’s greatest bridge designers. Both as a pioneering engineer and a musician who loved the music of his own time, he would be intrigued to experience this boundary-shattering synthesis involving his beloved bridge and the music of our time.
If you want to help the artist complete this work, go here.

(Image from Mr. Bertolozzi's site, © 2006, Spencer Ainsley for The Poughkeepsie Journal, used without permission.)

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Interesting, especially in light that some safety inspections are performed with hammer and ear, to find load bearing members that have gone slack.
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