A Bridge in the Fanfare for the Workers of Sydney

The Sydney Harbour Bridge

It’s made of iron and rivets and paint. Tons of it.  It crosses the beauty of Sydney Harbour and spans two sides of the emerald city of Sydney, NSW.  It’s orientation catches the light of the sunrise to the east and frames the perfect sunsets in the west.  When you cross it at night the light zooms up from below to catch the strong arch, home to thousands of bats and insects which fly around up there.  The Australian flags fly at it’s zenith and seem to state something for the nation of Australia.  You see flags are a rarity in Australia, compared to the USA, where everyone has one.  In Australia only important buildings have a flag to fly.  Up on the bridge there are flags flying on the great creation of the workers 80 years ago today.  Dr John Bradfield’s original idea and masterpiece developed from around 1900,  it opened on 19th March 1932 amid much fanfare.  Notably in true Australian style, someone stole the show on a horse and cut the ribbon with his sword.

Today 80 years on the sun was shining in the morning, as I crossed the bridge on the train.  It is the feast day or St. Joseph patron saint of the worker. It took about 100,000 man years of work to create it. No computers calculating the odds, no adding machines, it was all done on slide rules and rooms of drawings and sketches all calculated down to the point where expectedly the two  sides of the bridge met.

Of course everyone has seen the bridge, it really gets a birthday every year on New Year’s Eve when it acts as the mounting bracket for thousands of fireworks to help celebrate the new year.  Yes, although originally set up to carry traffic linking the two sides of Sydney Harbour, the bridge has developed into a performance space for the common man.

As I was crossing, looking up into the arch this morning, musicians from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra were scaling the bridge and getting ready to play.  It was their anniversary as well I understand.  A fitting choice of piece being Aaron Copland’s “A Fanfare for the Common Man”.  This piece was in fact originally commissioned by Eugene Goossens whilst he was conducting orchestras in the USA, who eventually became the first permanent conductor of the Sydney Symphony.  I like the piece, I wish I had heard it, but the wind and the rain probably carried the sound to where only the seagulls and St Joseph and maybe Dr John Bradfield, who conceived the design and who made it his own quest in the early part of the 20th century.  Happy Birthday Sydney Harbour Bridge !!

— See report on the bridge fanfare – 

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Innovation 7 – Miles on Fire as Engineering

It was April 1988.  I was working at Costec in Sydney at the time, a company then designing and making custom simulators for the power industry focussed on the idea of it’s two founders. Each one different, using currently available technology, fit for purpose – to train operators, and difficult to create, hours of work, based on a simple idea.  Wonderful time that was.

My first inkling that there was that kind of special thing was when I went to a concert at the time, It was Miles Davis playing in Sydney.  One of two concerts I think.  I had heard some of his music before, but not much.  I had even bought some sheet music of his and tried to play it. Didn’t understand it.

At that concert, I did experience Miles Davis, and got to know him through his music and ways around the stage. The way he kind of orchestrated on the fly, getting through his ideas in such an innovative way, each time he played a number. Here was one of the most intense people I ever saw or met. Someone who seemed to have an idea, and then do his best to express it through the entire composition, components of which were his trumpet playing, others were his sidemen. Music has a quality that is free of language.  Music speaks straight into the mind of the listeners, his kind of music devoid of lyrics and words, it goes straight in, if you let it. I did.

So it has taken  about 25 years for me to figure out what it was I heard.  What I heard was the physical expression of a burning idea through music. I am sure that non of it that I heard would be repeatable, without the man at the centre of it.  Since it was not just about the music, it was also his attitude, stance, control, and direction of that idea, his total focus on it, in order to have his musicians play it the way he saw it.  There I saw a match and its consequent fire of an idea, a physical thing.  It is here now, and tomorrow it will be there as well, but it may be modified, discarded for a better one, developed. I could be better tomorrow, it could be irrelevant, but for sure, there is a strong will about that idea that has to get out.

Since that time, I have come to understand about innovation in a similar abstraction.

Take an idea and then think about how you would tell someone about that idea musically.  Would it be noise, a lone trumpet song, and orchestra playing, a symphonic movement, which one, first or last ? How solid is the idea.  If someone kicks it, will it last, will it just blow away in the wind ? How permanent is the idea or its expression.  How quick does it have to be made ? How long does it have to last ? What color is it ? How much of that color is in fashion ? When will it go out of fashion ?……

Would you care ?

Innovations are true to the idea, its clarity and purpose. They reflect the idea so that others can see it.  The innovation itself has a timeframe, a purpose and a reason. So engineering too, it full of innovation and surprise, resulting in physical things others can see and appreciate, for what they are worth, their repeatability, and value, and for how long they are around.