Unique performance planned for bridge anniversary


Some time back in the late 1960s or early 70s, just as the Grateful Dead was becoming a powerful musical force, one of the band's drummers became entranced by the Golden Gate Bridge.

"I sensed that there was sound coming from the bridge and I pictured it as a giant wind harp," Mickey Hart said.

Hart wanted to play the bridge like an instrument, so he snuck out in the middle of the night with a rubber hammer.

"Tapping on the bridge and trying to record it," he said.

The police kicked him off.

"And then I came back a second time and I was unceremoniously taken off the bridge, this time in handcuffs," Hart said.

Some 40 years later, Hart is finally getting his chance. But this time he's getting help from engineers and artists at the Exploratorium. They've created a 23 foot replica -- one-300th the size of the actual bridge.

The replica is made to move the same way the real bridge moves to withstand wind or an earthquake; but in the small version the motion is exaggerated.

"The real bridge would take 20 seconds to complete this cycle of going all the way to one extreme and all the way back again; this one takes a little bit over one second," Exploratorium engineer Dave Fleming said.

Hart and the Exploratorium team have been working together for the past month. The sounds were developed with data from the real Golden Gate Bridge. It has sensors that monitor vibration and that information is digitally recorded and then converted to sound.

"A lot of those sounds are very high pitched and very rumbly and so we've kind of sculpted and sound designed those," Exploratorium engineer David Torgersen said.

To play the bridge there are touch pads and a flexible sensor Hart can strum. Mickey is also figuring out how to move as he plays so the performance will be a sort of dance. Movement is important because it changes the sounds.

"As the bridge moves up and down this way and side by side, this little sensor here picks that up," Torgersen said.

Hart named the little bridge "Bridget." He's thinking about her a lot.

"My wife is starting to ask questions," Hart said. "I went home last night. She questioned me about Bridget, 'Who is the Bridget?'"

Hart is still figuring out how Bridget will sound. We'll have to wait for the show to find out the answer.

After Memorial Day, the replica bridge will be made sturdier and move to its new home at the Exploratorium's new museum which opens next summer.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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