ELECTROACOUSTIC ECOLOGY IN CANADA:
BICYCLE ORCHESTRAS & RADIO PIRATES
Three installation/performances from
"7e Printemps électroacoustique" (June, 1992)
1. ORCHESTRE VÉLO (Bicycle Orchestra):
mobile electroacoustic installations
The Bicycle Orchestra was first conceived in 1991 as a way of combining the bicycle as ecological mode of transportation with the notion of using recycled materials for the construction of invented electroacoustic instruments.
I proposed the idea to composer Michel Smith and sculptor Paskal Dufaux and they conceived, with brilliance, what was to become Orchestre vélo (Bicycle Orchestra), a seven piece mobile acoustic and electroacoustic orchestra. The first generation of the Bicycle Orchestra was very successful, serving to kindle the imagination and listening sensitivity of both the seasoned new music audience and the general public.
The Bicycle Orchestra was invented with the intention of using art as a means of intervention in an urban space, and as a poetic journey composed of evocative and participatory elements (the curiosity of a moving phenomena, the fascination of animated objects, the seduction of the bicycle and of sound emanating from a moving source, the attraction of an unusual performance space, etc.).
The project is inspired, among other sources, by the Italian noise artists, by American composer and instrument builder Harry Partch, by the acoustic ecology movement and by the traditions of Balinese Gamelan instruments and music. Each machine is constructed with mechanical objects armed with invented instruments, resonators and loudspeakers which project various electronic and acoustic sounds which explore the sonic, choreographic and theatrical interplay between each of the cycles, as well as the interplay between the cycle machines and the public.
The 1992 version of the Bicycle Orchestra was not completely satisfying, in particular regarding the volume and variety of sounds available. Thus, in 1994, Smith and Dufaux conceived a new Bicycle Orchestra, which we named the Montreal Cycle Orchestra in May, 1994 and then in July, 1994, adopted our definitive title: "The KAREL Ensemble". This ensemble is much more complex and cohesive as sophisticated musical instruments and as provocative visual objects. The instrumentation of the new 10 part ensemble includes 6 amplified and acoustic musical wheel sculptures (bicycles, tricycles, quadricycles) and 4 amplified and acoustic trailers (2 tower trailers with multiple loudspeakers and DAT playback system, 1 percussion trailer with multiple loud-speakers and DAT playback system and 1 broadcast trailer (nicknamed "the Ball") with multiple loudspeakers which are drawn behind the wheel sculptures.
The music of composer Michel Smith uses theatrical language, sonic games and improvisation, all of which are synchronised with precise movements and gestures. This ritualistic performance, which combines primitivism with high technology, can be presented in various theatrical spaces, both urban and natural (parks, arenas, parking lots, playing fields, concert halls, etc.), the common element being a constant and dynamic interplay between audience and performers.
The sculptures of Dufaux use spherical and oval forms constructed with black metal, fabric and wood. The machines were carefully designed to function both as mobile sculptures and as musical instruments. Each machine is equipped with a lighting system which allows the creation of shadow plays and various choreographic possibilities and is hooked up with microphones (contact and dynamic), electronic processing and pre-recorded audio (on DAT). The musical instruments of the ensemble were designed by Dufaux, Smith and musician Jacques Marchand of Montreal.