So what if Yo-Yo Ma plays a $2.5 million cello that was manufactured by a Venetian master named Domenico Montagnana in 1733? Why can’t beautiful music be coaxed from an instrument with more meager origins? Musician Flip Baber, better known as Johnnyrandom, finds inspiration in humble, unconventional instruments and recorded his latest song using parts salvaged from a bicycle.
In his breathtaking single Bespoken, Baber treats disc brake rotors like gongs. Dragging a guitar pick on a knobby mountain bike tire created sounds similar to an electric bass guitar. Derailleur cables, used to shift gears on the road, produced harmonic overtones and added texture to this track.
Those components provided a killer backbeat, but the bike’s spokes are the star of the song. “For each note, I would tune all of the spokes in a wheel to the same exact pitch to avoid unwanted overtones via sympathetic vibration,” says Baber. “Tuned in unison, they sound gorgeous.”
Baber is willing to look anywhere for musical inspiration, but like a picky violinist who will only perform with a Stradivarius, Baber was obsessed with his instrument. “It had to be a wheel with straight spokes and no crossovers,” he says and points out that the slightest adjustment in the microphone’s position or playing technique can have dramatic consequences for the recording. “The first time I tried this it took an hour to capture just one note.”
Bespoken lasts only three and a half minutes, but took Baber over seven months to record and arrange. However, the idea of using unconventional instruments to make music has been an obsession of his since childhood.
The young artist was reclusive and barred from watching TV, so he got creative turning anything he could find into an instrument. Formal music studies followed at CalArts and the Berklee College of Music, and after graduating, Baber created a studio his nom de tune, Johnnyrandom.
Billed as a “creative audio boutique” for composers and sound designers, Johnnyrandom has given Baber plenty of experience with unconventional assignments. When Doritos was looking for the perfect crunch sound for one of their commercials, he sampled hundreds of chomps and chews, layered 15 of the best creating a trademark tone and setting an impossibly high bar for stoner sonics.
In 2006 he took a shot at making beautiful bicycle music when advertising firm Goodby, Silverstein & Partners commissioned him to use bike parts to record a section of Tchikovsky’sNutcracker. The piece was a smash, went as viral as something could in 2006, but left the artist looking to do more.
“I was never satisfied with my results up until now,” says Baber. “Even with some of my favorite composers, found object manipulation was often presented as noisy, atonal or arhythmic.” Advances in contact microphone sensitivity, improved analog-to-digital conversion, and higher sample rates made the recordings clearer and better captured the critical nuances. Lessons learned in the process of making Bespoken leave Baber confident that he’ll be able to produce new found sound symphonies more rapidly in the future.
After his bravura performance on a bicycle, what Baber will do for an encore? “The other day I was using a metal teaspoon and it bounced off the edge of the countertop and rang out, like it was demanding to be heard,” he says. “I looked at it and said, ‘Ok, you’re next.’”
read more: http://www.wired.com/design/2014/01/composer-makes-music-using-bicycle-bike-instrument/