I am delighted to have been commissioned by the Bicrophonic Research Institute to make a new site-specific composition.

The work will be triggered and experienced by individual audience members cycling through the work on ‘sonic’ bikes, as part of The Summer Pedalling Games taking place in and around London Fields this September.

It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity – I am a passionate cyclist. . I love sound. Cycling and Sound!! At the same time?! What’s not to love?


As a former cycle messenger I’m fascinated by alternative ways of understanding the city – how we navigate its complex spaces and the role which sound plays in helping us locate ourselves within it.

The piece I am devising (Wait and Return) uses the bicycle messenger as a starting point for the composition, exploring the unique sonic characteristics that make up their working day.

Immersed within a multi layered, complex and evolving sound world the courier’s experience is an ordered chaos.

A perceived sense of freedom or improvisation is countered and underpinned by a fluctuating rhythm of instructions and locations relayed over radio from a central hub. This forms the basis of their travels around the city and a living soundtrack to their day.

For me this strongly resonates with the concept and aims of the ‘sonic bike project’, which encourages participants to create their own journeys and compositions based on a set of pre-existing parameters throughout the city of London.

Radio Controlled Ghetto Blaster

The courier’s radio (analogous to the speakers on the sonic bike) adds several layers of complexity by embedding sonic and imaginary maps and places onto the courier’s journey through the city.

Throughout the day they hear instructions, journeys and problems of their fellow couriers – a journey east along Old St. to deliver a package in Hoxton merges with advice on where a post room for The National Galley is located, the background sounds of the control room, riders calling in from Regents Park, Victoria station and the Southbank – admonished by the controller for walking all over the current conversation – a tune plays as a mischievous rider broadcasts the sounds from a record store. Everyone is thinking about lunch.

This unusual sound world punctuates the city in an ebb and flow of moving points and shifting networks  – Tourists catch auditory glimpses as a bike speeds past them, café owners and receptionists are subjected to more protracted conversations and the disembodied voice of the controller can be heard in multiple locations at any one time.

Raw materials and the routes of the composition

I envisage this work consisting of multiple tracks of samples, created from field recordings, of cycle couriers and the sounds encountered throughout their working day.

These may include:

  • Sounds from the radio / communication with the despatch office / Radio Squelches and bleeps
  • The unique language / vocabulary of the messenger world (Wait and return / Call from the island / POB / Got you down in the garden / give it 5)
  • Sounds of the bike – breaks / chains / creaking metal
  • Longer soundscapes based on recordings of a journey through the city

I am aiming to get back in the saddle, fully immersing myself in this sound world, by spending a few days working as a cycle courier. This will allow me to generate a large body of raw material for the composition and an authentic experience for the participants.

I’ll be using a combination of techniques and equipment including:

  • Edirol RH09 Sound recorder
  • Binauaral microphones
  • Contact microphones
  • Iphone 5S

After collecting sufficient material I will process and manipulate these sounds in Ableton Live (DAW) and various effects / plug ins creating a range of samples which adapt and change depending upon the speed of the bike – becoming more abstract and modulated at higher speeds.

Bicycle workshop

All couriers have their favourite workshops. It’s always useful to have a few dotted through the city, where you know the mechanics personally, getting preferential treatment for urgent repairs (a buckled wheel, broken chain, smashed rear mech) done on the spot – usually free or for the price of a few beers.

The Bicrophonic research unit have organised their own workshop for all the artists participating in the games where they will demonstrate the sonic bikes and the software powering the project and allow us to get our hands dirty using the bikes. I’m looking forward to meeting the other artists, discussing broken mics and perhaps having a few beers.

The Sonic Bike

“Through ten years of international projects the BRI has developed the sonic bike whose music changes depending on where and how fast the cyclist goes, played through a pair of bike-mounted speakers and onboard software to GPS system. Not an app and free of the internet, the sonic bike creates an outdoor listening experience for all, the antithesis of headphones- the cyclist also becoming performer and passers by audience.” – quote from http://sonicbikes.net/about-us/