As part of the Totally Thames Festival in September there will be a novel opportunity to see some of Sir William Arrol’s engineering, inside the Tower Bridge bascule chambers, whilst listening to a performance of Iain Chamber’s composition “Bascule Chambers”.
All the steelwork for Tower Bridge was manufactured by William Arrol & Co. Ltd. in Glasgow and shipped down to London for construction. Bascules are the steel sections of the bridge which lift to allow passage of tall ships underneath. The bascule chambers are massive, brick-lined spaces which house the counterweights that enable the bascules to be raised. Iain Chamber’s composition is based around the sounds made as the bascules are raised, so essentially the bridge becomes the musical instrument and is supported by 4 brass players. The premiere of the composition will be the first ever public performance inside the chamber.
Sir William Arrol was very fond of music and often held live performances in the large wooden panelled hall at Seafield House. I don’t suppose that, as he supervised work on Tower Bridge, he ever imagined that the chambers would be used as a venue for a musical performance although he may have commented on the acoustics of the cave-like space.