By Sif Hellerup Madsen
Some people call what I do soundscapes, but I definitely call it music, because it’s a composition. I choose to organize sounds that I’ll combine in different ways for the cyclist. The Sonic Bike system is essentially an instrument to me
Composer and sound artist Kaffe Matthews has invented a sonic bike. But it is not really a bike – it is an instrument, she says. Nevertheless, you can cycle on it for this year’s Struer Tracks and experience your surroundings in a new way through sound.
“I want people to have fun with this. This past year has been so hard for so many people, so much struggle. I’m giving people a game as well as a sonic exploration,” says composer and sound artist Kaffe Matthews about her Sonic Bikes that will be a part of this year’s festival.
Composing for a bike
The Sonic Bike is simply a bicycle with speakers on the front and a special GPS tracking audio system in a box on the back. Different bits of music will be played according to the location of the bike. The audience will start at Struer Harbor and bike along the empty industrial space to the marina while listening to compositions made by Matthews
“Some people call what I do soundscapes, but I definitely call it music, because it’s a composition. I choose to organize sounds that I’ll combine in different ways for the cyclist. The Sonic Bike system is essentially an instrument to me,” Matthews says.
Matthews' sonic bikes in the streets of Berlin
Resonating with the surroundings
“I come to a place and I explore, I listen and I walk. I look at it and spend time in it. You kind of smell it. It can actually take several days to move beyond the initial excitement of a new place. But after a while, you start to hear what it really is.”
For each of her art projects, Matthews takes her time to get a sense of the place, she explains. The music you can hear from the Sonic Bikes will then be a response to the environment and the different sensations she has had there.
Sculptures of the past
Matthews experienced Struer as a place in the middle of change, from industry to gentrification and apartments with a view of the waterfront: “Struer is currently in a very transient period, its previous life is very visible, it’s almost tangible in the air, and these beautiful empty silos on the harbor stand as sculptures of the past”.
Matthews actually went into one of the big empty silos to record “the totally mad reverb” to be used as composition material for the Sonic Bikes
Kaffe Matthews exploring Struers surroundings on a bike, during a research visit in April 2021
Matthews’ music responds to this shift from a past time to a new time: “I made all these recordings of details, things slapping on boats, canvas and plastic being moved by the wind, rhythms, melodies and shapes around me in Struer. But I’ve also made quite a lot of responses digitally and synthetically, so the music is also a complete mix of past and future.”
I knew that I wanted to play music to get people to listen and get their ears out. We are not just eye creatures - we can explore our vision through our ears.
Explore your vision through your ears
“One day I picked up the violin again and I played without any directions. It sounded incredible. I found out that through all my years of playing, I had never really listened to anything I was doing, I was just reading a score."
Matthews started playing classical violin as a child and was very passionate about it for years. Later, she got bored of the kind of music she played. Until the day she as a grown up picked up the violin and started playing after her own ears.
You can see her revolt against traditional ways of composing in her work for Struer Tracks too.
Sonic Bikes have an element of randomness and room for the cyclist to influence and play with the composition itself. If you bike fast, the composition will change more rapidly, if you choose a certain direction, you might change the pitch of the sound you are hearing, and Matthews will randomize some specific areas, so that the sound will change each time you go there.
“I haven’t looked back since,” Matthews concludes, “I knew that I wanted to play music to get people to listen and get their ears out. We are not just eye creatures - we can explore our vision through our ears.”
Kaffe Matthews is a British composer, sound artist and musician who works live with space, data, things, and place to create new electroacoustic compositions. She has invented unique interfaces, e.g. the Sonic armchair, the Sonic bed and the Sonic bicycle, which not only enables new approaches to composition, but also gives the audience immediate ways into unknown sound and music
Struer Tracks is an international biennial of sound art that takes place in the urban space of the Danish town, Struer. The biennial will take place for the third time from August 20 to September 5th 2021 - The theme is "Landscapes of Sound" and is curated by Charlotte Bagger Brandt