The installation is an adventure in sound featuring the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North; an original piece of music heard through headphones during a walk across the bridge, alongside the resonances of the bridge and its weather and traffic. It is composed by the Norwegian trumpeter and contemporary jazz musician Arve Henriksen, electronic musician Jan Bang and guitarist Eivind Aarset, mixing their own music, orchestral and choral music, and field recordings made at the Humber Bridge itself by Hull-based sound artist Jez riley French.
The Height of the Reeds provides visitors to the Humber Bridge with a unique audio experience, designed to be listened to during a walk across the bridge’s 2,220-metre span – the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world that it is possible to cross by foot. It uncovers the hidden sounds of the bridge and its surrounding natural environment of river and fens, pairing these with music that is both atmospheric and epic.
In addition to the multiple layers of music, The Height of the Reeds contains lines of poetry by Norwegian poet Nils Christian Moe-Repstad read by Hull-born actors Maureen Lipman and Barrie Rutter, and narration recorded by Katie Smith, aged 7, a pupil from Bude Park Primary School in Bransholme, where Opera North has been delivering a Singing School programme over the last three years.
The project explores the bridge’s significance as both a symbol of home and a landmark of travel, by mixing local voices with music from Hull’s long term trading partners across the water in Scandinavia. The result is music that is at the same time epic and incredibly intimate, using the might of Opera North and the delicacy of a single note. Visitors need only collect a headset on arrival to activate a unique sonic experience that unfolds as they walk the length of the bridge.
Composer and musician Jan Bang describes the process of creating the work:
For us, it was interesting to start with the actual walk on the bridge, and to hear what the sound of the bridge was like. We went inside the bridge together with the sound artist Jez riley French and we listened to the sounds of the cars moving across the bridge above our heads, and further down Jez took some beautiful recordings of the cables resonating, which sounds like an orchestra itself.
We have just followed the natural environment of the bridge and the surroundings, like the sound of the reeds. If you put contact mics, very small microphones on the reeds, they sound like drumsticks, and if you have a thousand of those, it’s quite powerful.
It’s not just a normal sound walk, and it’s not just a normal piece of music. It’s interactive, so when you pass certain points during this walk, that will trigger certain musical fragments or a poem or the sound of a little girl from Hull. Even when you walk across the bridge, the piece is not something which is static, it’s something which continues to live.
Composer and trumpeter Arve Henriksen comments:
I hope that audience members, walking across the bridge with a headset, will be inspired by it. If this could be a starting point for the audience to be more aware that every day you are surrounded by so many sounds, and that a bridge, even a bridge, can make music, that’s lovely.
The Height of the Reeds launches on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 April with a weekend of special timed group walks with added live interventions and some treats along the way, with tickets priced at £7.50. Tickets are free from Monday 3 – Sunday 30 April. To book, visit the Hull 2017 website.
Arve Henriksen at the Humber Bridge
Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang at the Humber Bridge
Jan Bang walking the Humber Bridge
Credit: Tom Arber