Thought every twist on Tchaikovsky had been exhausted in holiday seasons past? Think again: San Francisco-based composer Flip Baber (aka johnnyrandom, pictured) writes to tell us about a compositional challenge that made him turn bike parts into instruments:

I was recently approached by award winning advertising agency, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to do a composition for their client, Specialized. Specialized is a bike manufacturer and they needed some Christmas music, but with a twist: They wanted me to create the music from only bike sounds. They didn’t even know if it was possible, so they left the song choice up to me to see what I could come up with. Since Jingle Bells is a little overdone this time of year, I thought Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” would be a great alternative. At first I didn’t think it could be done, but as I recorded sounds from my road bike and mountain bike it started to take shape. Here’s the instrumentation and score:

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Glockenspiel & Clarinet melody = spokes.
Cello & Violin pizzicatos = plucked derailleur cables.
Triangle = disc brake hit.
Percussion = shifting, coasting, finger over turning spokes, chain pulls, braking, clipping into pedals, back-spinning, air out of tires.

Even knowing what’s being used, it’s pretty unbelievable once you actually hear the results:

MP3, Specialized Nutcracker Suite

Johnny Random composer site (reel, bio, more music)
Specialized Bicycle Components

Updated: Specialized has posted the video that goes with this. Watch through to the end for a sound-by-sound rundown of what each sample is.

Alternative transportation never sounded so sweet; perhaps bicycle part instruments will be the next big thing. Proof there’s little you can’t do with digital sampling. Flip says the visuals are on the way; stay tuned and let us know if you’ve got any questions for the composer. Updated: Flip fills us in on some of the details on the recording process …

I recorded hours of bike sounds and edited the best chunks in BIAS Peak. After that, most of the spokes, cables and disc brakes were fed into the EXS24 Sampler within Logic Pro. It was super tricky since most of these metallic sounds have a pretty warped (no pun intended) overtone series. I interpreted the score by ear from a random mp3 I Limewired for reference. From there it was all about re-arranging the score in my head to compensate for the strange overtones. The source sounds were kept pretty raw besides some mild pitch shifting from keymapping & a touch of impulse response reverb to match the acoustical space of the orchestral reference recording. Between the road and mountain bike, there were octaves of difference (maybe I should get my wheels trued?) and they yielded some great sounds, most of which didn’t even get used…although they will end up on something eventually. Other than that, there were some automated volume swells and plenty of panning since you would associate a bike sounds with stereo movement. I hope this exposes my journey from bike to mixdown!

Flip also adds a link to another great composition (this time, minus the Russian master):

If you dig this, you’d probably love this:

The instrument list includes hundreds of everyday object; the familiar into a unfamiliar context for unconventional instrumentation. The film was shot in Brazil, but I can’t share it since it would null & void it from film festivals till it is officially released. Either way, I assure you I fully intend to pursue this vein till I’ve squeezed every last drop of inspiration from it. 🙂

More bicycle music

Music for Bicycles: Ensembles, Symphonies, and Bikelophones

More Musical Mayhem, Instant Art with Bicycles (Pt. III)