This Musician's Unlikely Duet Partner? The Golden Gate Bridge

Aug 9, 2021
Originally published on August 10, 2021 7:50 pm
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You might've heard of the concept of a "bridge" in music. Well, guitarist Nate Mercereau is taking that term literally. In July, he released a new album in collaboration with San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge — yes, you read that right — titled Duets / Golden Gate Bridge, which features droning guitar improvisations over the eerie hum of the Bay Area landmark.

Mercereau says he first heard about the sound through a San Francisco Chronicle article that delved into how residents have been complaining about it. But when Mercereau heard recordings of the sound, which is produced by wind passing through the slats of the bridge, he was immediately struck by its beauty.

"It's remarkably musical," Mercereau says. "It plays multiple notes."

In May, Mercereau — who's worked as a session musician with Jay-Z, Leon Bridges and more — alongside engineer Zach Parkes and photographer Minea Bisset trekked down to the Marin Headlands by the bridge and spent two days recording duets with its hum. Mercereau weaves low, slow melodies around the bridge's ominous tones, which he likens to Tibetan singing bowls. Listen to him describe the process and meaning behind Duets in the audio player above.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For more than a year, the Golden Gate Bridge has hummed an eerie song.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL HUMMING)

CHANG: Engineers installed new railings last summer to improve the bridge's aerodynamics. But now on windy days, the railings vibrate, creating that sound, which has been met with so many complaints, engineers are planning to get rid of it. Guitarist Nate Mercereau has a different take. He was so inspired by the sound that he recorded an album of improvisations using those sounds called "Duets / Golden Gate Bridge."

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 1")

NATE MERCEREAU: I actually first heard about this through a San Francisco Chronicle article. The article headline was something like, "The humming of the Golden Gate Bridge is driving people crazy. When are they going to shut it up?" And when I actually heard the recordings, I thought they were pretty beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 1")

MERCEREAU: It's remarkably musical. It plays multiple notes, and it - if the wind picks up, it really has a musical quality to it. It has dynamics.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 1")

MERCEREAU: I saw the article, and then I called my friend, Zach, who is an engineer up there. And within a couple days, we had made plans to go up and record it.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 1")

MERCEREAU: There's a really high note that kind of sings through everything. That seems to be the constant presence.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 1")

MERCEREAU: For us, it was in the key of C major. And there's these lower notes that seem to swell and smear together as the volume increases or as the wind changes direction.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 2")

MERCEREAU: It's not really playing with me. It doesn't know I'm there in a real physical sense. It's like you're witnessing it happening. And I'm getting inside the sound of it and trying to interact with what it's doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 2")

MERCEREAU: The ability to look at something in the world and be able to see it from a different angle and allow yourself to appreciate things as they're happening is a big deal for me. And this is kind of an exercise in sensitivity in that way - to look at it as, like, something that is actually unique and special.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 3")

MERCEREAU: It's almost like this project is a manifestation of how I try to look at the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 3")

CHANG: That was musician Nate Mercereau. His new album is called "Duets / Golden Gate Bridge." It's out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE MERCEREAU'S "DUET 3") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.