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Performance artist plays bridge – the Golden Gate variety

– During an artist-in-residency stint at the San Francisco recycling and disposal station in 2001, Jon Brumit came across an approximately 9-foot, steel replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. Brumit, who often uses found objects in his work, knew instantly that this piece of trash was a treasure. And he kept it.

 Jon Brumit practicing his bridge-playing
Jon Brumit makes music by "playing" a steel replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. (Sarah Wagner photo)


On Wednesday, June 30, an audience at the University of California, Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive (PFA) will find out Brumit's aural and artistic vision of commuting over one of the world's best-known spans when he appears with it onstage as part of the West Coast premiere of "Key of Z: Experimental Instruments and the Music They Make." The Key of Z series, which includes five shows, began June 2 and ends with Brumit's performance.

"Brumit's going to play the Golden Gate Bridge," said Steve Seid, curator of the festival that features film portraits of innovative composers and musicians, along with 20-minute live sets by "some of the Bay Area's most delirious sound practitioners."

In "Round Trip," Brumit will take the audience on several treks back and forth from home as symbolized by a four-armed turntable, across the orange-painted model bridge, and to work, represented by the "Jingletron," a recycled and redesigned typewriter/piano.

"We were trying to figure out if we could collect tolls," joked Seid.

Brumit, a classically trained painter, will "play" the bridge with violin and cello bows that he has found, attached to contact microphones connected to an amplifier to coax out the bridge's more subtle sounds. Brumit also will strike the model with homemade rubber mallets and rub it with a large plastic green comb that says "San Francisco."

So what does this Golden Gate Bridge sound like? Brumit said the extreme high and low sounds produced by the structure best resemble architectural frequencies.

The piece will begin with sounds from the bridge model looped and layered to create textures over which improvised solos occur - enhanced by songs from San Francisco-themed records he said he also found at the dump.

The old LPs include, "Nostalgia on Nob Hill" and "Penthouse Party: San Francisco," played on Brumit's recycled turntable that he has equipped with four separate arms, allowing him to play multiple tracks on the same record at once. Brumit, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., said he will use an old joystick rewired as a quadraphonic mixer "so that sounds can move through the audience." The Jingletron is a manual typewriter reconfigured to strike a reconfigured harp with 26 strings and a bell for a question mark.

"The performance will ultimately culminate in a cacophony of sound gathered during our commute," said Brumit, known for generating more than a bit of noise when he organizes an annual race of adults on Big Wheels down San Francisco's zigzagging Lombard Street.

Also on the June 30 program will be a documentary film, "The Cleaning Women," about a Finnish techno trio traveling the Baltic region and making sounds with items such as a clothes-drying rack using objects including chopsticks. Also on the program will be "Ear to the Ground," a short film following percussionist David Van Tieghem as he meanders through Manhattan "playing" sidewalks, buildings and phone booths.

This week, a June 23 "Key of Z" performance featured a film about electro-acoustic composer Francis Dhomont, known for manipulating natural sounds in a process called "musique concréte." Cheryl Leonard performed a new work using natural materials such as rocks, pine cones, sticks and feathers for sound sources.

The remaining program begins at 7:30 p.m. at the PFA, 2575 Bancroft Way. Tickets are $8.

Amoeba Records is sponsoring the series. More information about the series can be found at on the PFA website.