Notes on a bridge
Composer Joseph Bertolozzi has recorded sounds from the Mid-Hudson Bridge to create a new kind of symphony.
For most of his career Joseph Bertolozzi has written music for symphony orchestras. But his most recent composition was written for an instrument towering 135 feet above the Hudson River: The Franklin D. Roosevelt Bridge in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.Skip to next paragraph
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For five years the New York composer has been fixated on making the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge (also known as the Mid-Hudson Bridge) sing. His whole love affair with the suspension bridge began in 2004 after his wife playfully gestured at a poster picturing the Eiffel Tower while making a musical noise. Bertolozzi says the random incident inspired him to find a way to play the Eiffel Tower, but not knowing anyone in Paris or how to speak French, he settled on finding a structure closer to home.
His quest was not easy. He made trips to the local library digging up books on bridge construction, physics, and metallurgy. He spoke to an engineer and learned about how different types of paint might affect the sounds he planned to record. And he met with the New York Bridge Authority many times to try and convince them that he was not a "nut case."
A year or two later, Bertolozzi found his bridge. Situated between Highland, N.Y., and Poughkeepsie, the Mid-Hudson Bridge became his coveted instrument.
Though he had found the perfect bridge, he would have little time to record music. Bertolozzi was only allotted three days in 2006 and two days in 2007 to record sounds from the bridge. Over those five days, he brought along a sound engineer and asked bridge laborers to record sounds that were higher up and harder to reach. Using contact microphones to capture the sounds, Bertolozzi struck the various parts of the bridge – including guardrails, spindles, and girders – with wooden and metal mallets, hammers, and logs. Within five days, he had recorded 1,000 samples, which he later categorized by sound and note in his computer to begin composing "Bridge Music."
The composition process was unlike anything he had ever experienced. "It's not tuned like a guitar or a piano," Bertolozzi says, noting that certain parts of the bridge when struck would create two or three notes simultaneously. Though he was accustomed to writing compositions for percussion and the organ, Bertolozzi's notation sheets for the bridge music featured rather different parts for 24 "musicians," such as guardrails and signs.