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All DJs and Cyclists Welcome: "Underground Bike Techno", A New Musical Genre?

Posted by Amie / April 18, 2011

Underground bike techno at FrictionThink of a bike as a DJ turntable where the right-hand brake lever scratches, your pedaling speed makes the beat, the sounds you create are from the bike itself or recorded along Montreal's bike paths, and you're hooked up to a video projection screen for a bike tour of Montreal that speeds up and slows down according to how fast your legs are pumping. This Thursday, April 21st at 8pm, 10pm and midnight you can watch expert DJ/bikers ("velo musicians" says organizer Claire Kenway) perform their sound installation // Friction 2.0 :: Création / Stimulation / Transformation.

Kenway, aka DJ Claire, is part of the underground techno scene in Montreal, but she's also pretty into cycling and electronics.

Her project involves three bikes set up in front of a large video projection screen. Three people hop on. One bike controls the groove and the other two accompany.Bike Recording Apparatus for FrictionBike Recording Apparatus

How it Was Made

Step 1: Kenway jumped on her bike with her recorder and cycled around Montreal capturing cars passing by, sirens, clashing metal; sounds of nature - birds chirping, the wind blowing in the trees, and sounds of humanity - people playing music in the park, talking, yelling, laughing.

Step 2
: She hit a lot of bicycles - the seat, frame, spokes, handlebars, chains, and wheels spinning - then imported them into a drum machine in Ableton Live and manipulated the pitch and length of the sound, putting filters and effects on them, and composing 4 rhythmic tracks from that. These are the techno-like sounds, "the music that I have been playing as a DJ and enjoying for the past 10 years," she explains.

Step 3: She built a tone generator. Maybe not the easiest step...These sounds are created "directly from the bike by using the bicycle as a tone generator - hooking up a dynamo generator directly to a speaker to capture the sound of the rubber from the tire. This sound rises in pitch as the rider pedals faster."
Wii-Cycle and Wazou at FrictionTake That Wii Sports

Of the two bikes that don't set the groove, one has a wii-mote strapped to the bicycle's rear wheel and the other bike, the Wazou, adds a "bassy sound that can be manipulated using the right hand brake lever to cut the signal, creating an effect similar to a DJ scratching a record." Kind of like an environmentally-friendly version of Serato.
Can You Play Too?

Yes! There will be three performances from the pros, but in between those pros will take to the turntables while audience members can try out the bikes for themselves. "The experience is somewhere between a video game and virtual reality," Kenway explains. "You can see the handlebars in the [video] frame, and the speed of both the rhythms and the video corresponds directly to pedaling speed." So you can essentially bike all around the Plateau, down avenue du Parc, through downtown, Chinatown, Old Montreal, along the Lachine Canal, and through the industrial sections of Griffintown.

The DJ in Kenway comes out when I ask her about her favourite sound: "As a lover of underground electronic music of all varieties, I love the sound of a nice solid kick over a fat baseline - a deep 808 and a nice sine tone sub bass. But as a musician in general I appreciate the nuance of sounds layering and changing over time -- building up and breaking down, rising in tension and then releasing. Nothing is more satisfying than that moment when a cluster of rhythms is building and building and building -- and suddenly it breaks down, builds up again, and slams back in."

Sounds like club music, but will it lead to dancing? Kenway explains that the performances are set up so that the energy in the drum tracks will increase from the beginning to the end, "so the audience may dance by the end, but I really don't know what's gonna happen." Hopefully there will be dancing by the end of the night as DJs Vincent Lemieux, Mossa, and Mir help Kenway out between shows. $12 gets you in to one or all of the shows ($10 if you come with a bike helmet or show a valid student ID) and each show will be different since the sounds themselves are set but the performance is based on improvisation by the DJ/producers/cyclists. So sticking around for the whole night is definitely an option.Underground Bike Techno - Friction at SAT April 21For the Tech Savvy: Arduino Controllers, OSCulator, MAX/MSP and Ableton Live

"The Electronique [the bike that creates the beat] is by far the most complicated of the three, as it incorporates electrical energy taken from a dynamo to power a series of LEDs which light sequentially on the bike AND THEN also uses the power from the dynamo to give a voltage range to an Arduino microcontroller board, which then sends data into the computer into a program called MAX MSP that translates that data into the tempo of the rhythms and the speed of the video. This bicycle also has a switch built into the left hand (front) brake lever which enables riders to switch between tracks. Click on the switch and both audio and video will change.

The Wii-Cycle uses Nintendo Wii-Motes that have been mapped using a program called OSCulator which enables me to send Open Sound Control messages via Bluetooth to my computer in order to use the Wii-Motes like a kind of MIDI-controller. In this project I use two Wii-Motes at the same time : one strapped to the rear wheel of the bicycle, whose X-Y axis orientation corresponds to the wet/dry, pitch, and frequency components of various effects in Ableton Live - resonators, reverb, and delays - and the second which is simply programmed to allow the rider to change between tracks.

The Wazou is the simplest bike, as it simply takes the sound directly from a dynamo generator on the rear wheel and feeds it straight into a speaker. The right hand brake lever is wired to a mechanically-constructed interrupt, which allows the rider to cut the signal completely when the brake is pressed down, creating a freestyle scratch-like effect. I am curious to see how turntablist musicians may use this bike!!"

Underground Bike Techno by Friction at SAT April 21Is it Art? Or is it Music?

"Ultimately my goal here is to create 'real techno, with bike sounds' that falls somewhere between sound art, soundscape, and a DJ set."

Kenway hopes to have her bikes in more new music festivals in North America, Europe, and Japan soon, so the rest of the world will get to explore Montreal's streets while Kenway simultaneously promotes the bicycle as "an object capable of providing sustainable transportation, energy, and inspiration through sound".

/// Friction 2.0 :: Création / Stimulation / Transformation
When: Thursday April 21, 8pm (performances at 8:30pm, 10pm, and midnight, with DJs sets in between and the chance of a 4th performance around 1:30am
Where: Société des Arts Technologiques, 1201 boul. Saint-Laurent
How Much: $12 entry for the whole evening, $10 if you come with a bike helmet or show a valid student ID



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