Bridge odyssey

Gail Priest talks with sound artist Jodi Rose

Recording the Brooklyn Bridge

Recording the Brooklyn Bridge

Recording the Brooklyn Bridge

Jodi Rose is a self-proclaimed nomad, travelling the world in pursuit of undiscovered songs. But unlike a traditional ethnomusiclogist Rose is not looking to capture the voices of people but rather of bridges. What started as a “throw away idea” in 1994 has developed over the last decade into what can only be described as an obsession. However, rather than narrowing the scope of her artistic investigations, her fetish serves as a springboard for a multitude of ideas and future projects.

Rose’s epic journey began on a bus on the way to art school, watching the construction of the Anzac Bridge spanning the city to Glebe. Her lecturer at the time, sound artist Nigel Helyer, set the project of imagining the ultimate public artwork, unconstrained by practicalities of money or technical feasibility. Rose says that at the time, “Joyce Hinterding was tuning us in to listening to sounds in space, and I looked up at the bridge and thought ‘I wonder what those cables sound like? I can make a global bridge symphony of cables around the world’.” While telecommunications are only now developing to where this might be affordable and possible, Rose acted upon the initial idea and approached the construction company as well as Ros Cheney, then head of ABC’s The Listening Room, in order to make the first recording. The project took on a momentum of its own. The recording was broadcast by the ABC, a 4-track mix by Rose (the opening track on the CD) was included in Alessio Cavallaro’s Sounds In Space Audioteque at the MCA in 1995 and Douglas Khan then included the work on the Leonardo Music Journal Vol 6 CD in 1996. In 2000 Rose enrolled in a Masters degree in the Media Department of Melbourne University and decided to put all her effort and resources into realising the global idea. By 2002 she had gathered her own funds to embark on a bridge odyssey.

“I was away for 7 months. I made an itinerary of particular bridges I wanted to go to for various reasons and cruised around and recorded them, with varying degrees of success. The one in Vietnam was stressful because it was the first one I’d done and I couldn’t get any sound from the vibrations of the cables, so I just banged on them to get that metallic bell sound… [But] Joyce Hinterding gave me fantastic advice when I started, she said ‘Jodi, it doesn’t matter what the sounds are like–the fact that the sound is there is what it is’.”

Rose’s recent CD release Singing Bridges offers the results of this adventure. A double set, the first CD Vibrations is mostly unadorned field recordings. Compiled in chronological order it offers a strong sense of the journey itself from the Anzac Bridge recording in 1994 to bridges in Vietnam, Holland, Finland, Germany, UK, USA, Spain, Geelong, Tasmania and back to Finland by the end of 2004. While on the surface the sonic palette of most of the bridges offers a booming, clanking similarity, several of the recordings stand out as significantly different. The Brooklyn Bridge piece presents sonorities that are deep and ponderous–a world weary under-rumble with metallic shivers and rolling rattles–concluding with an evocative siren in the distance. In contrast the Golden Gate sample is full of fast, high pitched zaps and snaps with a natural flange effect conjuring the sci-fi sonicscape of William Gibson’s bridge colonies from Virtual Light and All Tomorrow’s Parties. The MacIntyre Bridge in Geelong has tuned cables that can be played like a crossbred harp and gamelan, and the recording of the Heureka Silta bridge in Tikkurila Vantaa (Finland) provides a minimalist electronic static reminiscent of the finest no-input mixing.

Rose’s process is mostly one of selection and editing with little intervention, effects or overlays. The exceptions are the original Anzac Bridge piece that was manipulated on 4-track tape and included some reverb, and the F6 Coalmining Bridge in Germany–not a suspension cable bridge like all the others–in which she uses small loops to create a post-human industrial scape.

Through her extensive travels Rose has also developed a significant international network which she draws upon for the second CD Variations. Artists such as Fransico Lopez (Spain), Ed Osborn (US/Germany), Gintas K (Lithuania), Melbourne artists Steve Law and Jacques Soddell and others, all have a crack at making music out of the rich source material with some very satisfying results.

Rose sees the CD as the culmination of the research phase of her obsession. In that time she also undertook the ABC-Australia Council Listening Room residency, making 2 works. The first was a radiophonic piece concentrating on the lives and stories of people in, on and around bridges; the second a series of improvised instrumental pieces with Trevor Brown, Ion Pearce and Ben Fink based on visual scores comprising drawings of the bridges themselves melded with technical diagrams of electronics. Another manifestation of the material was included in Ros Bandts’ Hearing Place, part of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology in which Rose crafted small model bridges to accompany some of her audio pieces.

As ideas for future phases just keep on coming, it’s clear that Jodi Rose has found herself an ouevre. She has been invited to work with a Swedish engineer to record the cables on a bridge in Bangkok while they are being tensioned. She is also in conversation with Denzil Caberrera and Michael Bates from the Acoustic Research Lab at Sydney University Architecture Faculty to investigate different recording techniques such as industrial vibration monitoring equipment in order to pick up the lower frequencies that her current piezo contact mikes are not registering. And of course there is the global bridge symphony that she is still keen to realise.

At the time of this interview, Jodi Rose was packing to head off to Finland to start preparations for a trial performance of a live streamed performance mixing several bridges in Finland. She is also going to run Particle Wave (with Sophea Learner, a fellow Australian now based in Helsinki), a program of workshops and discussions on experimental radio practice which will be part of Pixel Ache in April 2005. It appears that the nomadic life certainly agrees with Jodi Rose and her practice.

See earbash soon for a review of Singing Bridges, www.realtimearts/earbash.

Jodi Rose, Singing Bridges–Vibrations/Variations, Sonic Artstar, 2005, SAS001, www.singingbridges.net

RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 50

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2005