SPIN is a unique project – a hybrid of theatre, music, storytelling and documentary written by my friend and longtime band-mate evalyn parry. The songs that make up SPIN all have the “bicycle percussion instrument” at their centre – many of them built around grooves, sounds and melodies coming from that unusual instrument.
SPIN had a long gestation period, growing out of a series of songs by evalyn centering on the bicycle as a symbol of social change – particularly looking at the bike’s influence around the turn of the last century.
I happened to be storing my old red CCM Galaxie in evalyn’s basement, and at some point we hit on the idea of using it as a percussion instrument on those songs. The first performance – made up mostly of songs that are not even in the show now – used the bike only as an “acoustic” instrument – clacking away in a stairwell at a “new works” festival in Toronto. When our other performing collaborator, Anna Friz, came on board, she made the suggestion of hooking the bike up with contact microphones – and that is when the “bike as instrument” really took off.
SPIN has been a really unique and rewarding project for me as a percussionist. Drummers tend to be inadvertent Foley artists anyway – banging away on whatever happens to be in front of them, curious about what things will sound like. It is really fun to be standing on stage with that bike suspended in front of me, making music with something that most people (Frank Zappa excluded!) would never imagine sound coming from.
Those sounds are delivered via contact microphones, which are designed to sense audio vibrations through solid objects. The SPIN bike is rigged up with two contact mics – one in the seat and one on the front fender. The seat mic allows that red and white vinyl beauty to shake the auditorium like a bass drum, while the front mic picks up the frame, fender and front wheel, used for snare drum-like backbeats, plucked or bowed spoke notes and clicky hi-hat type sounds.
Those two mics are then sent to my mixer (so I can balance the two levels) and then fed through a reverb unit and loop station. This allows me to build loops on stage, creating dense, multilayered rhythms and melodies from that single, strange instrument.
And all of that is just in service of evalyn’s amazing songwriting and storytelling. It is a show that people seem genuinely amazed by.
I am particularly happy with the SPIN recording, which, along with the astoundingly talented Don Kerr http://www.donkerr.ca and evalyn herself, I am proud to have co-produced. I am also proud to say that the record was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award!
Because it is the soundtrack to the stage show, SPIN is essentially a concept record. And like some of the great concept records of old, there are recurring themes and melodies throughout, the songs referencing and commenting on each other in clever and unexpected ways. (As a nod to the “proggy” concept albums I grew up loving, I even managed to sneak a good 7/8 groove on there!) It is a sonically layered and complex recording – a real headphones album. That makes me happy…
SPIN is unlike anything else I’ve been a part of. I hope you get a chance to hear or see it sometime…