With new album Amen & Goodbye released next week (1 April) – get the latest Q now for our review – Yeasayer's Ira Wolf Tuton has written us a guest column about one of his other favourite constrctuions, bridges (well his band are based in Brooklyn).
I grew up on a bridge. The house where my family lived in Philadelphia was perched at the mouth of a 544 foot span, 94 year old, sinewy, iron beamed giant. When I was six, it was replaced with a stark utilitarian, steel, and cast concrete frame bridge. Wilson Goode, the mayor, came for the opening. He let me cut the ribbon. When I started architecture school fourteen years later I became more and more enamored with the structure of span. Things that are built plumb and level tend to want to stand up. But to me, any bridge had a mystery and kinetic energy that traditional vertically foundationed architecture did not.
I was studying music theory and composition at the same time, and I became aware of the overlap between the two disciplines. In a very tactile, and practical way, a bridge is an instrument. Its design and engineering is based on answering the same physics problems. A western instrument might be designed to play a note at exactly 440Hz (middle A), whereas a bridge (especially suspension and cable types that tend to be not as overly engineered as other types) is designed to play to specific sympathetic vibrations that allow it to flex and move and maintain its integrity through shifting winds, temperatures, and weight demands. (The Tacoma Narrows [Tacoma,WA] is the clearest example of how this can catastrophically go wrong).
In practice and experience, the Clifton Suspension Bridge (Bristol, UK) is a giant harp; The now decommissioned Waldo-Hancock Bridge (Bucksport, ME) is the mouthpiece of a reed instrument; Falls Bridge (Philadelphia, PA) is a vibraphone; Henry Avenue Bridge (also Philadelphia) is a bass recorder.
The technological leaps, and evolution of materials, design, and imagination that has effected bridge construction can be metaphor of the watershed moments in the musical world as well; beam bridges are to arch bridges as gregorian chants are to Bach. Arch bridges are to Cantilever bridges as Bach is to Stravinsky. Suspension bridges are to Cable Bridges as The Beatles are to Kraftwerk. John Coltrane is the Golden Gate Bridge.
As a musician who tours the world for months at a time, these kinds of thought experiments help to keep the mind interested, engaged, and aware. We move from one confined space to the next (plane, hotel, bus, backstage, stage, club) and meditating on the coalescing and expansive forces of the manmade and the natural world help maintain sanity of space, while reminding me of simpler beginnings, when I was just a kid growing up on a bridge. Ira Wolf Tuton @Yeasayer
For more head to Yeasayer.xyz.