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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Duets with the Golden Gate Bridge

Nate Mercereau becomes one with the hum

Perhaps you’ve heard the news about the how the Golden Gate Bridge here in San Francisco, where I live, has taken to singing. Repairs to the bridge led to a unique teachable moment about the physics of sound: high winds cause it to drone mellifluously (or annoyingly, according to some locals, though not me) all around the city. The drone is hard to capture because, by definition, it happens when the winds are themselves making noise. The bridge also sounds different depending on where you are. I’ve posted footage from my backyard, not that my cellphone captured anything remotely like what it is like to stand there. It is truly alien, the thermin of the gods.

Much as nature abhors a vacuum, alien music abhors isolation. And thus the Golden Gate Bridge has drawn to it some local musicians. This isn’t the first track I’ve heard in which someone tries to play along with the bridge, but it’s certainly among the most beautiful. Nate Mercereau, as I learned in a news story in yesterday’s issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, has recorded a four-song EP, Duets, on which he plays live along with the bridge. There’s also a video, shown up above, in which he sits perched in the Marin Headlands with the bridge in the background. As Mercereau told the Chronicle’s Aidin Vaziri, “It’s the largest wind instrument in the world right now.”

The video opens with an extended sequence of the bridge on its own. Nearly a minute passes before Mercereau, eventually seated on a stool behind a battery of pedals, begins to intone slow, aching tones that meld beautifully with the bridge itself. He is careful to keep the playing subtle, quiet. It never threatens to overcome the bridge. Instead, it flows in and out of the underlying hum.

The playing on the Duets EP pushes a little further. On “Duet 1,” the guitar sounds at times almost like a flute. On “Duet 2,” a more full-bodied part suggests some hybrid of violin and saxophone. On “Duet 4,” Mercereau posits drones that sit in contrast with the main source audio. Throughout, the bridge just sings on. Perhaps when Mercereau is done, another musician will take his seat on that stool.

This is the latest video I’ve added to my ongoing YouTube playlist of fine live performance of ambient music. Video originally posted at youtube.com. More from Mercereau at howsorecords.com, instagram.com/natemercereau, and twitter.com/natemercereau.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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