The relentless drone the the golden gate bridge windy days are a nuisance to many Bay Area residents. But for Nate Mercereau, a multi-instrumentalist who has recorded with multi-platinum pop stars including Lizzo and Shawn Mendes, the racquet – created when gusts blow through the the new bridge safety slats – is a source of inspiration in the key of C minor.
“In fact, the rating the bridge makes seems to fluctuate depending on where you’re standing,” Mercereau said. “He plays four notes quite solidly. There is an A, a B and a G chirping together and creating the disturbing part of the sound, and then there’s a high C that holds it all together.
Mercereau said the inspiration for the project, titled “Duets / The Golden Gate Bridge”, came from an article in The Chronicle with the title: “The buzz of the Golden Gate Bridge drives people crazy. A team of engineers are busy silencing him. “
“It’s like a loop moment for me,” he said with a laugh.
This prompted him to team up with his engineer, Zach Parkes, and spend two blustery days in May at Marin Headlands, just north of the span. There, with Mercereau playing in a cove near a former military bunker, they recorded improvised duets with the much ridiculed, whisper buzz from the bridge.
“Because there is so much negative attention around it, it seemed like an opportunity to look at things another way,” said Mercereau, a former San Francisco State University alumnus who lives now away from the noise in the Los Angeles foothills.
As he expresses his deep sympathy for the people who live near the Endless Clamor – the result of a $ 12 million west sidewalk rail renovation last year – he said he created a song set with the 88-year-old bridge as the sole attendant was too great an opportunity to pass up.
“It is the largest wind instrument in the world today,” said Mercereau.
It was not an easy undertaking. It was difficult to find the best place to play with the bridge. He considered hiring a boat and recording in the bay below, but soon realized he would block a major international shipping channel.
“It was an amazing project, but there were definitely some unique challenges,” Parkes said. “A full-size piano is hard enough to record evenly and clearly, especially when it’s outdoors. How do you pick up a 9,000 foot long harp that requires 20 to 25 knots (of wind) to play?
Using recording equipment powered by car batteries and surrounded by windshields, Mercereau and Parkes managed to produce nearly eight hours of improvised music in the minds of artists such as John Cale and Brian Eno.
The three tracks that made the album are simply titled “Duet 1”, “Duet 2” and “Duet 3”.
“Like all things worth it, it ultimately took a little patience to get it right – the right windy day, the right fuzzy hats for field recorders, the perfect little sheltered nook,” said Parkes. “Even then, we were collaborating with an inanimate object in an uncontrolled environment. The easel would take breaks when it wanted, solos when it wanted. And the planes, birds, hikers and cars all showed up to play too.
The recording can be a document from a fleeting era. Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District spokesperson Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz said the booming musical tones “were a known and unavoidable part of a wind power renovation project” the bridge had been planning for years.
As part of this larger project, engineers replaced the thick, bulky slats on the west handrail with thinner slats, designed to help make the orange span more aerodynamic. These slats allow more air to flow over the deck, allowing the structure to withstand gusts of up to 100 mph, compared to 68 mph with the older rails.
This is what creates the wall-to-wall hum when strong winds blow from the west.
But a team of aerodynamic specialists in Canada are working on a way to calm the beastly racket off the bridge, which has sparked countless complaints on social media platforms including Nextdoor, Facebook and Twitter.
The creative impetus behind the project, said Mercereau, is not that far removed from his studio work with Top 40 musicians. It just sounds a little less polished.
“It opened up a whole world of things for me that I can do, by taking something that people find inconvenient and finding a way to reuse it,” said Mercereau. “It was one of the most engaging and straightforward things I have done with music.
“I hope it also offers some healing for this relatively painful experience that people are going through.”
“Duets / The Golden Gate Bridge” by Nate Mercereau is released on Tuesday July 20 via Band Camp.