Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bridges are Acoustic Information: Sound artist Rutger Zuydervelt and designer Gerco Hiddink have teamed up to organize a new audio project called Bridges.

[Image: From Bridges].

The project asked a group of eight well-known improvisational musicians to "react" to four Dutch bridges (or, more accurately, to field recordings made on, under, and near those bridges). The project is thus as much about musical improv as it is about infrastructural acoustics—a structural ecology of sound vibrantly humming in the spaces around us.

[Images: From Bridges].

As The Wire explains in a short article about the project, Zuydervelt and Hiddink "paired the eight musicians not to play together, but to react separately to the field recordings, which he then mixed together with the primary field recordings."

The resulting sound works have just been released, and can be previewed here.

[Image: Album design by Gerco Hiddink for Bridges].

As it happens, there's a surprisingly strong artistic interest in turning bridges into sound.

A few years ago, for instance, a project called "Singing Bridges" made the news. It was "a sonic sculpture, playing the cables of stay-cabled and suspension bridges as musical instruments," and the artist behind it—Jodi Rose—wrote that she aimed to "amplify and record the sound of bridge cables around the world."

Artists Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger, meanwhile, explored the acoustics of an urban bridge with their project "Harmonic Bridge" (which I had the pleasure of hearing during its run at MASS MoCA). That project, as the museum explained it, produced a roiling "eddy of sound in the midst of intersecting streams of traffic. Cars pass by heading north or south on Marshall Street and east or west on the Route 2 bridge, but this linear motion is counterpoised by a rolling, humming C as calming as the rhythm of ocean waves."

More broadly, the artists add, "The bridge becomes an instrument played by the city revealing hidden harmonies within the built environment."

[Image: "Harmonic Bridge" by Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger, courtesy of MASS MoCA].

Even more recently—and as those of you in New York City will get to hear next week at Studio-X NYC—sound artist Kevin Allen has being exploring sounds hidden in material objects & systems (what Allen calls "the secret lives of material objects") with his ongoing project, "Sonic Geologic."

Next week at Studio-X NYC, Allen himself will be on hand to let us listen to the Brooklyn Bridge: "The suspension cables of the bridge make excellent conduits for sound," he writes, "picking up moving traffic, bicycles, pedestrians, wind and the general resonance of the bridge itself. Considering the surprising amount of movement of the cables, it was especially difficult to get these microphones to make contact. In the end, best results came from using a set of wood vises. For variation I also attached mics to the steel gate at the center of the bridge. This placement brought a more metallic, tonal quality to the sound recording."

A related project by Allen—"American Transit"—surveys "the sounds of transit throughout North and South America," including subways, roads, and, of course, bridges (which, in fact, reminds me of the strange story of the New York subway line that inexplicably hums Leonard Bernstein).

In any case, the bridge becomes an Aeolian harp—infrastructure gone acoustic—its formal sonic properties activated by the turbulent motions of the environment around it.

Releasing drone-bursts, buzzes, rumbles, and bells, bridges are the ignored instruments of the city, strongly suggesting that the urban context so often prized by architects and designers should also include an awareness of that region's acoustics—a neighborhood zoned for singing bridges and harmonic roads, given rhythm by the thumping and amplified tectonics of the subways.

(Environmental sounds elsewhere: Dancing About Architecture).

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