John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A gear-headed noise artist attempts to find the soundtrack of a bicycle.
If you want to hear what a Ford Mustang sounds like, rev the engine. A skateboard: Steer it down some bumpy pavement.
But what is the signature noise of a bicycle? Unless you have been terribly neglectful about oiling the chain, a bike's soundtrack at a full-on pedal is frequently buried beneath the city's cacophony and our own huffing and puffing. It's there, but in a very subtle way.
Leonardo Ulian has found a technique to draw out the various audio emissions of a bicycle. The London-based artist mounted a bicycle on a turntable that slowly rotates the back tire, making a cardboard tab slap against the spokes in a rudimentary beat. The rest of the "notes" in this scratchy symphony come from sensors that transform the blinking front and back lights into noise. An urban commuter's best friend, it turns out, speaks the language of the emotionless robo-warriors from Planet Hyperglitch.
If a demented radio DJ decided to play "Quiet Rithmic Rush," as Ulian calls his weirdo song, listeners would probably not draw any associations with a bicycle. Personally, I think it sounds like a click-bug colony infesting a Geiger counter. But for anybody with a few John Cage LPs in their collection, this prepared bicycle is minimal music at its finest. (H/t to Animal New York.)