Bill Fontana – Harmonic Bridge

August 3, 2008 at 3:14 pm (Further Research & Contextualisation)

Bill Fontana describes his work as existing “one foot in and out of contemporary music, one foot in and out of contemporary art, on the edge of some science, on the edge of philosophy. Sound enters so many different worlds.” (as cited in Licht. 2007: 274)

I decided to research his work, since he has created several sound pieces concerning bridges; transmitting sounds from one city in to another, sometimes even thousands of miles apart.

In one of his more recent works, Harmonic Bridge (2006), he amplified the sound resonating through the Millennium Bridge, transmitting it into the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern and also Southward Underground Station. For me this ‘relocation of sound’ creates a temporal link between separate spaces and structures.


I was lucky enough to experience the work when it was showing and it’s given me some interesting food for thought after listening to the composition again on CD recently. When I first heard the piece in the Turbine Hall I felt there was a slight lack of sonic clarity, due to the grand acoustics of the space. However, upon reflection this creates a more interesting dialogue between sound and space. He used powerful microphones on the bridge (accelerometers – vibrations sensors), which only pick up the physical vibrations of sound of the object or structure they’re attached to. We are hearing the internal structure of the bridge as defined by sound. The bridge becomes a giant resonating body, an instrument, being played by the wind and anonymous people walking over it. By transmitting the sounding into the space of the Turbine Hall, he is transplanting the internal structure of a sounding body (the bridge) into the physical space of another internal structure (the hall), and allows us to walk in between this synergised sound-space. The acoustics of the Turbine Hall redefine our final sonic experience, thus linking the sonority of two separate structures and instigating a reflection on the relationship between them.


I find this idea of translating and transmitting internal life of structures through sound inspiring. By using technologies that respond to vibrations we can access the hidden sonority of structures, making them audible. This makes me think of conversations with Andy in which we talked about sound as defining the spaces in between physical material structures (e.g. a buildings interior and exterior spaces). However, sound can also be used to explore the internal happenings of a physical structure itself – with the right technology of course!

Since I will be using bridges as my point of departure, I’d like to experiment with these technologies and hear what the results are like. Also, during my journeys I might come across other structures that may yield good results. I’ve used cheap contact mics before, but they’ve been fairly ineffective, so more research must be done…



Licht, A. (2007) Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories, New York: Rizzoli International Publications


Fontana, B. (2006) Harmonic Bridge, London

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