Golden Gate Bridge Music
July 24, 2021 8:58 AM   Subscribe

A retrofit of the sidewalk railings on the Golden Gate Bridge last year has caused the bridge to "hum" when wind conditions are just right (much to the annoyance of neighbors). Musician Nate Mercereau has responded to the complaints by creating several duets with the bridge. He explains his process in a Facebook post.
posted by agatha_magatha (19 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Let the bridge sing its dirge.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:00 AM on July 24 [4 favorites]

Everything about every aspect of this is really neat. Looking forward to learning more about Mercereau. Thanks!

Having lived a 30 minute walk from the bridge for a bit, I'm not entirely convinced there actually is anyone around who I'd call neighbors, arguably aside from the toll booth, souvenir shop, maintenance, and gardening workers who spend their day nearby. But, I have no doubt there are people in town who will complain. (I live 1/30 as far from a train station today as anyone does from the bridge. . . so it's hard to be all that sympathetic.)
posted by eotvos at 10:06 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]

has caused the bridge to "hum" when wind conditions are just right

Maybe it doesn’t know the words, okay?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:48 AM on July 24 [11 favorites]

I'm not entirely convinced there actually is anyone around who I'd call neighbors

It can be heard in Berkeley.
posted by ryanrs at 12:12 PM on July 24 [9 favorites]

Months ago I headed north from my apartment in SF and within a block I heard what sounded like some choir, both human and brass, off in the distance. Weird… I kept going and with each block, it got just a little bit louder. Some wordless song that meandered in pitch. What the hell is that?

I live 2.8 miles just south from the bridge. A few days later I heard on the radio about the bridge making noise. So that’s what it was. Quite pleasant in a weird way.
posted by njohnson23 at 12:16 PM on July 24 [4 favorites]

Looking forward to the first 'the bridge told me to do it!' defense.

Not that it won't be perfectly sincere; I cannot not hear words in the bathroom fan when I get certain rash on my legs.
posted by jamjam at 12:57 PM on July 24

Humming is better than galloping any day of the friggin week.

The ambient track made as a duet with the bridge is actually really good.
posted by deadaluspark at 2:00 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

The bridge used to hum and sing long before this, too, but the wind had to be high enough, and it seemed to help if it was foggy and the air was dense with moisture.

And it really does sing like some kind of ethereal heavenly choir full of hundreds of voices and I love it so much.

It's also difficult to hear properly if there's a lot of traffic and you're on the footpath. I found the best place to listen for it was being sheltered behind one of the towers on a low traffic day or perhaps even late at night. You could touch the deck suspension cables or the tower itself and feel the whole bridge softly singing and humming.

I liked the sound a lot. It was very ethereal and otherworldly, but I like strange spooky noises.

For a long time I wanted to try to record the noise in some unique way for an ambient field recording or album of some kind. My idea was to use an array of geophones, contact microphones or even EMF microphones or coil pickups with some magnets taped to various parts of the structure to capture sounds or signals outside of the audible spectrum in infrasonic or ultrasonic ranges - record all of that in multitrack about 32 to 128 tracks deep, and then mix the sources together in a DAW.

Granted, this was still just a few years after 9/11 and I knew that getting permission to do this would be nearly impossible. Especially if I wanted to shut down traffic for an hour or two to eliminate the traffic and road deck noise.

And if I tried to do a field recording project this complicated without permission and started randomly taping wires and weird looking devices that were or were not obviously microphones I'd probably end up in jail being asked a lot of silly questions.

I mean I can't say I would blame anyone to ask just what in the hell I was doing. I can put on my armchair demolition engineer's hat and all of the places I would want to tape microphones would also be some of the exact same places you'd want to strap some charges and detonators to cut some suspension cables, and it would pretty much look identical except for the lack of brightly colored det cord and it would all look extremely suspicious and dangerous.

But why the excessively complicated microphone array? Why not just a regular microphone or pair of microphones that reliably look like microphones and sound gear?

Well, I've tried to record structural or industrial noises like this before and they just don't record easily or well. There's some sort of psychoacoustic magic going on with human hearing and perception that's difficult to capture as a sound recording.

Example: Some of the ferries in Washington State have some really amazing engine and structural noises, particularly when you stand outside on the top deck and forward facing fly bridge or catwalk over the bow/stern on the dual-ended ferries used for the Bainbridge to Seattle route. I tried recording this noise at least a dozen times with a number of different microphones and it never came out as full bodied or interesting sounding as it was in person.

I even ended up making two dark ambient noise/experimental albums not out of the field recordings themselves but discovering an effects chain that replicated the sound I was looking for after experimenting with those recordings.

This pleasing thrum and noise of these ferries is so well known that more than once I have randomly run into someone else standing in the exact same spot walking around with headphones on, a field recorder or a boom mic and looking frustrated that they couldn't capture the sound, either.
posted by loquacious at 2:24 PM on July 24 [18 favorites]

I like this! I take it he must have recorded near one of the airports, I think I hear plane noises occasionally?
posted by tavella at 2:48 PM on July 24

The sound may not last for long, though -- a plan is being developed to retrofit the retrofit to dampen it. Which is probably good for the people living near it -- I think it sounds very cool, but I can imagine it's not so great if you can't turn it off.
posted by tavella at 3:01 PM on July 24 [1 favorite]

Here's an article on the project from the SF Chronicle for the Facebook-averse.

(This is great stuff, totally in line with the ambient & noise-ambient stuff I spent a lot of time listening to in 2020. Thanks for posting.)
posted by soundguy99 at 8:19 PM on July 24

the bridge song has been a soundtrack to the pandemic, for me.
i live halfway across town, and i hear it often. at times, it is quite loud.

thanks for the update, agatha_magatha! imma check out Merereau's music -- i like this first Duet a lot!
posted by lapolla at 5:27 AM on July 25

San Francisco Route Zero
posted by xigxag at 5:49 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]

BRIDGE ENGINEER: Bridge's haunted.


ENGINEER: *loads etherial shotgun* Bridge's haunted.
posted by andreaazure at 6:14 AM on July 25 [3 favorites]

Loquacious: when they were installing the traffic median barrier, there were a couple days (or at least hours) when car traffic was shut down, but pedestrian access was maintained. The sound was astonishing.
posted by alexei at 9:51 AM on July 25

Especially if I wanted to shut down traffic for an hour or two
Call Chris Christie.
posted by bitslayer at 10:31 AM on July 25 [2 favorites]

Reminds me of Bruce Odland's Harmonic Bridge project: North Adams, MA
posted by JohnFromGR at 10:53 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]

Grandma used to have a cabin on the lake where we spent a few weeks every summer. The porch roof was held up by metal pipes, and late at night the wind would whistle through them and sound like low, mellow flutes.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:01 PM on July 25

See also the Wave Organ.
posted by bendy at 10:07 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]

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