Making The Singing Bridge Sing: How'd They Do That?

Oct 11, 2019

Blink started Thursday night and one of the biggest, if not the biggest, event was the lighting of the Roebling Suspension Bridge. The historic span was bathed in lights that danced along to a specially composed soundtrack.

The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge is named for its designer. It's also known as the singing bridge, because of the sound tires make as they pass over the grated bridge decking.

For the opening night of Blink, a team of artists made the singing bridge really sing.

Boston-based Masary Studios lit up the bridge with a light show coordinated with original music. One of Masary's principal artists, Ryan Edwards, says there were a few reference points for the team to draw from when creating the show.

"This is a light display in a civic settling. One of the closest parallels is a fireworks display. But then also it's a score. There's an intention. There's a linear quality. There are themes. There's a relevance to the bridge and to the city."

The Masary team of Reynolds, Maria Finkelmeier and Sam Okerstrom-Lang didn't use an orchestra or a band to make the music. They used the bridge itself.

The Roebling was closed for much of the summer for repairs, but Finkelmeier says she came before that happened, and was able to record the sound of cars driving across. She says the closure meant she could get other sounds too, without interruption.

"If you take a mallet and you scrape it across the grates as opposed to a wheel you actually get an (unspellable onomatopoeia) sound. And when we can put that in our software we can re-pitch that so it can be (repeated onomatopoeia in increasingly higher pitch). All of a sudden you have a melody," Finkelmeier says.

"There's these beautiful low thud sounds that Ryan found on one of the doorways. We took a big soft mallet and put a microphone really close and you get a really deep sound. We used that in quite a few ways to be kind of like a bass drum," she says.

The artists mixed the sound samples to produce the score.

Finkelmeier's originally from the Cincinnati area so she knows the bridge. Ryan Edwards is from Michigan but was familiar with the Roebling from previous visits.

"It's a different perspective to look at the bridge and look at the community and try to back up and ask, 'What does it stand for? Why are people so into it?' Rather than growing up and saying 'Yeah, I love that bridge,' and 'Yeah it sings,' " Edwards says. "Being able to ask that question and have that dialogue with Maria has been really useful to our process."

Two of Masary's principal artists, Maria Finkelmeier and Ryan Reynolds pause for a photo two days before their Blink creation is unveiled.
Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU

With the Roebling Rumble presentation, for 30 minutes, you'll experience a high-energy score, followed by a 30-minute ambient composition.

Finkelmeier says there are different ways and places to witness the shows. "There will be a viewing area on The Banks on the Cincinnati side, just in front of Smale Park. At that area, you'll be able to see the whole bridge, there will be the whole sound. You can come and sit for 30 minutes; you can stand for five minutes, 10 minutes. Then you are welcome to traverse the bridge," she says.

A golf-cart will shuttle people from one side to the other, or you can walk. The Roebling Rumble starts around dusk, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.