Claudia Molitor: The Singing Bridge

Warning: This post contains a selfie. I feel terrible.

Yesterday evening I attended the launch of Claudia Molitor’s newest project, The Singing Bridge at Somerset House.

The Singing Bridge is a private soundwalk/sound art piece, to be listened to on headphones while walking across and around Waterloo Bridge, London. The music is comprised of eight tracks, mostly composed by Molitor herself, but with additional material provided by the drum and synth duo AK/DK, contemporary folk group Stick in the Wheel, and poet SJ Fowler. There’s a small exhibition of images and objects in a room in the new wing of Somerset House. You collect your headphones here, switch them on, then step outside onto the northern end of Waterloo Bridge, where it meets The Strand.

The sounds are a combination of speech – Molitor introducing the bridge, or staging a dialogue with herself about the place of bridges within the cultural imagination; Fowler reading his poetry – and music. It’s quite easy to connect the former to the bridge, its history, and the views one has as one walks across it. The relationship of the music to the setting is more oblique, however. Molitor’s compositions are quite sparse, loose assemblages of sounds – piano chords, a little percussion, some guitar, an accordion. They are obviously not specifically evocative of anything (apart from a recording of Big Ben late in the work), but project a space for imagination and contemplation. The work’s blurb suggests the prepared piano sounds give the piece an industrial feel; I heard something more nostalgic and whimsical. The contributions by AK/DK and Stick in the Wheel chimed more fully with the surroundings. I followed the suggested route fairly closely (cross the bridge, swing round the National Theatre, come back on the bridge’s other side) so AK/DK’s Electricity was playing when I reached the concrete playground between the National and the Hayward Gallery: a perfect urban union. Stick in the Wheel’s Sweet Thames Flow Softly, a love song to the river’s flow past different landmarks, came in as I was midway back across the bridge and the sun was setting behind Westminster.

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The Singing Bridge is a piece rich in inspirations and associations. In her notes for the piece, Molitor draws particular attention to the fact that Waterloo Bridge is nicknamed the ‘Ladies Bridge’ because it was rebuilt during the Second World War by a predominantly female workforce, something I did not know; and it is home to four of London’s finest vistas – north to Somerset House, south to the Hayward Gallery and National Theatre, east to St Pauls and the City, and west to the Houses of Parliament. Yet characteristically Molitor handles everything with an extremely light touch; while it may be a little weakly defined at times (could I be listening to anything right now, to similar effect?), it is also pleasingly undidactic. And one should never pass up the opportunity to listen to music while walking around the stairs and tunnels of the Southbank.

The Singing Bridge can be listened to at Somerset House until the 25th September. It is free, but booking is recommended as there is a limited number of headsets available. More info here from Totally Thames, one of the project’s partners. The walk takes about 40 minutes. The recording is released by NMC, and extracts can be heard on their website.  http://www.nmcrec.co.uk/recording/singing-bridge

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