Singing bridges

19.53, Monday 8 Jun 2020

I am of course delighted that in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is singing like a giant ethereal harp, because it makes me wonder what it’s saying, and about the voices of other transport infrastructure, and what they would sing about too.

Here’s another recording of the singing bridge.

(The sound reminds me of this demo of the Cristal Baschet which is a glass “harp” invented in France in 1952, and it gives me SHIVERS.)

So how would it sound for an office tower to sing? And what voice would it have?

Or an airport? Or a wind farm?

How about a road? If you put your ear to the asphalt, would you hear it whispering about what’s happening at the other end, 500 miles away?

I’m reminded of Tom Armitage bringing Tower Bridge to life in tweets: I am opening for the MV Dixie Queen, which is passing down riverstream.


I’m also pretty taken with the idea that we don’t know what the Golden Gate Bridge is singing about, other than it being windy. It tickles me that the bridge has its own internal life that leads it to sing, but it’s no more speaking to us than a blackbird. Why should the bridge want to tell us anything? And why would we be able to understand it if it did?

What’s appealing is the scale difference and the parallel lives. In regular life, the bridge is subject to human concerns. But if we’re quiet, and we make some room, this sleeping giant dreams, and we can hear it talking in its sleep.

A city, but the Music of the Spheres:

If earthly objects such as strings or pieces of metal make sounds when put in motion, so too must the Moon, the planets, the Sun and even the highest stars. As these heavenly objects are forever in motion, orbiting the Earth, surely they must be forever producing sound.

(Says Pythagoras.)

I’m currently lost in a bit of a wikihole reading about the music of the spheres, the musica universalis, and it turns out this is only one of three branches of “musica”:

  • musica mundana (sometimes referred to as musica universalis)
  • musica humana (the internal music of the human body)
  • musica quae in quibusdam constituta est instrumentis (sounds made by singers and instrumentalists)

So, a fourth brand, a musica city? Not cosmic but earthbound. The music of the human-created but somehow bigger than us?

If you’ve never been to The Monument in London, it’s a thin stone tower with a spiral staircase inside to reach the top, about 300 steps, and it was tall when it was completed in 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire. (Now it’s in a square mostly surrounded by office blocks.) Here are some pics.

The staircase is hollow from top to bottom. You can see straight down as you circle round, which always gives me the heebie jeebies.

It turns out the entire thing was architected to double up as a telescope to measure the parallax of the stars, lenses attached 200 ft apart across the cylindrical void.

And I remember reading somewhere that Christopher Wren (the new St Paul’s Cathedral) and Robert Hooke (him of the law of elasticity, and also architect) conceived of the post-Fire, rebuilt London as a landscape of mega-instruments, buildings simultaneously for people and also for the scientific contemplation of nature.

So maybe that would be the song of our cities, if only we could hear it.

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