How Sunderland's Northern Spire is set to become a musical instrument

Artist Di Mainstone is to transform the bridge into a musical instrument.
Artist Di Mainstone is to transform the bridge into a musical instrument.

Sunderland's newest bridge is set to make sweet music as it is transformed by an artist.

The Northern Spire, which is due to open in the spring, is to be turned into a musical instrument by Artist Di Mainstone.

The Northern Spire.

The Northern Spire.

Di is working with people on both sides of the new Wear crossing to create mechanical and digital devices which will bow, twang and pluck the bridge.

A specially-written anthem will also be made to celebrate the Northern Spire, which will be delivered later this year.

Di has a reputation for the 'Human Harp', which is a musical device which has 'played' suspension bridges including New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, Omaha’s Bob Kerrey Bridge and Bristol’s Suspension Bridge.

She said: "Imagine the Northern Spire as a 28-stringed harp, with the cables as strings.

"Each of the cables is of a different length and we’ll create a Sunderland scale and then physical and digital ways of playing that scale.

“We’ll also be looking at other ways of creating sounds from the bridge.

"This might be inspired from the city’s history – we might use sails to harness the sound of the wind on the Wear, which would echo the city’s shipbuilding past.

"Or we could reflect on Sunderland’s mining heritage by sculpting elements of our instruments out of coal.

"It’s also important that the project reflects modern-day Sunderland, so we might look at using a sitar or pipa to celebrate the wealth of global music in the city today.”

The project, called IN-SPIRE, has been commissioned as part of Sunderland Culture’s Great Place project and is being delivered in partnership with Sunderland City Council and the Cultural Spring.

Di is to meet people from the communities closest to the bridge - Castletown, Millfield, Pallion, Southwick and St Anne’s - over the coming weeks.

Helen Connify, capacity building manager for Sunderland Culture, said: “IN-SPIRE is the first in a series of commissions from the fund aimed at putting culture and communities into the heart of Sunderland’s regeneration plans.

"It’s an exciting project, one which will be remembered and we’re delighted to be working with world-class artist Di Mainstone on such an important project.”

Emma Horsman, project director for the Cultural Spring, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Sunderland Culture, the city council and Di on IN-SPIRE, which aims to bring communities together and gives participants a unique opportunity to get involved in a historic moment for the city.

"The Cultural Spring is all about creating opportunities for people to engage with excellent art and culture in their neighbourhoods and estates, which is exactly what IN-SPIRE is doing.”

Coun Michael Mordey, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “The Northern Spire is an asset for the whole city in terms of the transport link it creates.

"It has a huge impact on the skyline – particularly for those communities closest to the bridge.

"So it’s fantastic that this project will bring together residents from either side of the River Wear, joining cultural ideas and experiences to form an exciting and innovative piece of work.”

Residents interested in getting involved can contact Great Place producer Corinne Kilvington on Corinne.kilvington@sunderlandculture.org.uk