Monday, June 29, 2009

Bicycles clanging

Last week, I made this video. Being there, taking notes by Pedicab, I felt so freakishly happy to be in Portland:

Around 4:30, after practice, Jason Fromme climbed into the back of a pedicab and prepared to conduct a symphony. About 40 bicyclists stood parked before him, singing a "low, pleasing melody."

"All right, let's see if we can make something nice," he told them, and they set off.

The event director, Mattie Kaiser, looked part bicyclist, part musician, wearing a white gown and a helmet as she led the crowd. Kaiser's the head of Classical Revolution, a group of 20- and 30-somethings dead-set on making classical musical accessible for all. During Pedalpalooza, that means taking the music -- by bike -- to the streets.

The group performed "How I came to Chicago and why" while riding along the Park blocks.

Galen Huckins -- a 22-year-old composer whom Kaiser calls "Boywonder" -- wrote the piece after a cross-country bike trip two years ago. He woke up in Indiana one morning, determined to bike to Chicago by nightfall. The symphony is what the 144-mile trip sounded like, he said. It's the sound of countryside giving way to urban sprawl, of a body long worn out, of a bike's natural squeakiness.

Not that any of that sounds particularly gorgeous. Wednesday's symphony was more Portland weird than orchestra pretty. But the musicians were smiling the entire time. And the onlookers who stopped to watch the noise-makers riding by seemed to like it.

The cyclists whooshed. They rang bells. They banged on their bike frames with silverware.

"I'm not getting a good sound out of this," one guy said, clanking a fork against his frame. "I think it's my bike."

The street offered its own improvised melodies: Motorcycles blared by, birds chirped, a couple fought over a suitcase, a man asked for change.

To hear a snippet of the symphony, watch the video.

Portland Bike Symphony from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

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