The Humber Bridge is one of Hull’s most iconic landmarks.

Stretching 2,200 metres across the Humber estuary, it is the longest single-suspension bridge in the world that can be crossed on foot. In April 2017 this magnificent feat of engineering was brought to life in a whole new way when it became the site of a large-scale sound installation, Height of the Reeds.

The Height of the Reeds

The project, created by national opera company Opera North as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017, comprised an original sound composition featuring poetry, spoken word and field recordings, which was played through headphones and accompanied audiences on their journey across the bridge.

Height of the Reeds combined local voices with those from Norway, Hull’s long-term Scandinavian trading partner. It included a musical score composed by Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, guitarist Eivind Aarset and electronic musician Jan Bang, which orchestrator Aleksander Waaktar combined with music by the orchestra and chorus of Opera North.

Capturing hidden sounds

Layered on to this musical composition were the recordings of Hull-based sound artist Jez riley French, who lives locally and has long been fascinated by the Humber Bridge. For Height of the Reeds, he journeyed into the bridge’s inner structure to capture its hidden sounds, such as the cables moving and the cars passing above, as well as placing miniature microphones on the reeds to pick up their reverberations. Also included in the final piece was narration by seven-year-old Katie Smith, a pupil at the local Bude Park Primary School, along with readings of Norwegian poet Nils Christian Moe-Repstad’s work by Hull-born actors Barrie Rutter and Maureen Lipman. In the video below, watch an introduction to the project featuring interviews with French and his fellow participants.

Opera-North | Height of the Reeds ©

Tom Arran

Humber Bridge ©

Chris Pepper

Humber Bridge ©

Chris Pepper

Humber Bridge ©

Octovision Media

Sound journey

As they walk along the bridge, visitors passed sensors that triggered particular sections of the piece. This meant that everyone could experience Height of the Reeds at their own pace, and in doing so allow the sound journey to unravel in a unique way.

By drawing on the inner structure and natural environment surrounding the Humber Bridge, Height of the Reeds offered a unique take on Hull’s architectural heritage. Born out of voices both local and from further afield, it provided a personal journey into the heart of this national monument and revealed in it a surprising inner life.