2011-02-26: Jacob and Dave survey the Golden Gate Bridge again.

On Saturday, February 26, 2011—after days of being teased with a forecast of snow from local news channels—Jacob and I made our second foray across the bridge together. There was no snow, but in all other respects it was a nearly perfect day: high visibility, some wind (OK, sometimes a lot of wind), and no rain; light to medium vehicular traffic; light foot traffic on the Marin side, mostly joggers out for an early Saturday constitutional.

The third GGB assay

As long as we’re going to obsess over this bridge, a bit more about the walk is in order. Park at the north end in Marin County. (Take the long way around over the Richmond and you’ll skirt tolls if you’re heading back toward San Jose.) The bridge walk opens officially at 06:30. It’s a nice, gradual approach from the north scenic overlook parking lot, a bit over one-quarter mile to the first concrete pier and emergence of the main catenary.

Here, in early February 2011—as in October 2009, according to our notes—construction is in progress. There’s cyclone fence in place up to the second suspender cable cluster, and a very ominous sign warning about trespass where the catenary safety cables rise through the pier (We decided to stay on the right side of the law this day and not step up onto the stainless steel signaling box to snag a signal at this north end appearance). So we started our reconnaissance at the second suspenders.

In a bit of serendipity, Airship Ventures’ Zeppelin N-704LZ “Eureka” flew by as we neared the center of the span.

Golden Gate Bridge north tower

The airship 'Eureka' flies over the center of the span

A note on designating cables

Someday we’ll get a look at the original engineering drawings and adopt the proper designations. Until then, we’ve adopted a simple naming scheme based on walking, counting, and compass points. These are, roughly, and from north to south, west (left) to east (right):

  • North approach
    • NAW = North end approach, ”west” side
    • NAE = North end approach, ”east” side
  • susp NW01 = first suspender cluster, west side (closed to pedestrians, but not bicycles)
    • susp NW01NW = northwest cable of cluster NW01
    • susp NW01NE = northeast cable of the cluster
    • susp NW01SE = southeast cable of the cluster
    • susp NW01SW = southwest cable of the cluster
  • susp NE01 = first suspender cluster, east side, as encountered walking south
    • susp NE01NW = northwest cable of cluster NE01
    • susp NE01NE = northeast cable of the cluster
    • susp NE01SE = southeast cable of the cluster
    • susp NE01SW = southwest cable of the cluster
  • susp NW02 = second suspender cluster, west side, as encountered walking south
  • susp NE02 = second suspender cluster, east side, as encountered walking south
  • etc.

Using this scheme, the center of the bridge is at suspenders NW63/NE63. And if you count from the south approach, the equivalent appears to be true in that SW63/SE63 are at the same latitude (the bridge runs very closely north-to-south).

Cable clusters

During the first two assays of the Gate, we sampled only one of the four cables in each suspender cluster. That’s understandable as a gross first-approximation method. Jacob asked the obvious question this time—Do all four make the same sound?— and we focused in a bit.

They do not make the same sound. Each cable in the cluster is working hard on its own. Maybe it’s an effect of wind loading or something else mundane, but it suggests an additional layer of sonic complexity. So several of these samples are sets representing not just cables, but clusters:

  • susp NE10
  • susp NE16
  • susp NE21
  • susp NE42


We also had a chance to reinvestigate the “outer space howl” from assay 1. That first assay used a piezo mic and an improvised pickup; this time, we brought the Schertler to bear and captured an interesting sample from the south handrails.

Sights and sounds

February 26, 2011

Cluster NE02 is the first set of suspender cables you can reach on the pedestrian side of the cyclone fence. Only the cable nearest to the camera was sampled.

File GGB 0301 suspender NE02SW at freesound.org

The cables of suspender NE02

After listening to NE16, we walked back to suspender NE10 to sample all four cables. The view is to the southeast; NE10NW is closest to the camera.

File GGB 0302 suspender NE10NE at freesound.org

File GGB 0303 suspender NE10NW at freesound.org

File GGB 0304 suspender NE10SE at freesound.org

File GGB 0305 suspender NE10SW at freesound.org

At suspender NE13, we checked to see whether anything special was happening. It was similar to 10 and 16, so we moved on.

File GGB 0306 suspender NE13SE at freesound.org

Suspender NE10

Suspender NE16 was nice and active

NE21 is closest to the north tower and sat in shadow. There’s a lot more road noise on these suspenders, and sounds are in a lower register. They’re the longest cables, but connected to the catenary very close to the tower. Again, the sounds of the four cables were quite distinct.

File GGB 0311 suspender NE21NE at freesound.org

File GGB 0312 suspender NE21NW at freesound.org

File GGB 0313 suspender NE21SE at freesound.org

File GGB 0314 suspender NE21SW at freesound.org

Suspender NE42 is one quarter of the distance across the central span as you head south. We guessed it might be a harmonic node of some sort, but that’s hard to test.

File GGB 0315 suspender NE42NE at freesound.org

File GGB 0316 suspender NE42NW at freesound.org

File GGB 0317 suspender NE42SE at freesound.org

File GGB 0318 suspender NE42SW at freesound.org

Suspender NE21 sat in the shadow of the north tower

Suspender NE063 is at the center of the span. There are lights and foghorns, along with plenty of razor wire to discourage climbers.

File GGB 0319 suspender NE63SW at freesound.org

Jacob struck a pose mid-span at suspender NE63

The inner safety handrails run down from the south tower and through holes in the south concrete pier. These are the longest “thin” cables we’ve found that you can attach a contact mic to. The sounds are very complex and deep, especially if youhave a subwoofer handy.

File GGB 0320 handrail SEW at freesound.org

File GGB 0321 handrail SEE at freesound.org

The south inner safety handrail did not disappoint

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