And what if Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello worth $2.5 million, created by the Venetian master Domenico Montagnana in 1733? Can’t beautiful music be extracted from instruments of less noble origin? Musician Flip Baber, known asI’m sorry, but “Johnnyrandom” is not a sentence in a foreign language. It appears to be a name or a phrase without a clear meaning. If you have a sentence in a foreign language that you would like me to translate, please provide it and I’ll be happy to help., he draws inspiration from humble, unconventional instruments, and he recorded his latest song by playing on bicycle parts.
In his captivating single “Bespoken,” Baber used brake discs as gongs. By running a pick along the ridges on a mountain bike tire, he extracted a sound similar to an electric bass guitar. The gear shift cables produced harmonic overtones and added texture to the melody.
These details contribute to the killer beat, but the main performers are the spokes. “For each note, I have to tune all the spokes on the wheel to the same height to avoid unwanted overtones caused by sympathetic vibrations,” says Baber. “When tuned in unison, they sound amazing.”
Baber is ready to seek his musical inspiration everywhere, but like a picky violinist who only wants to play on a Stradivarius, he is obsessed with his instrument. “The wheel must have straight spokes,” he says, noting that even the slightest change in microphone placement or performance technique can have catastrophic consequences on recordings. “When I tried it for the first time, it took me a whole hour to record one note.”
“Bespoken” lasts three and a half minutes, but Baber spent seven months recording and arranging it. However, the idea of playing music on unconventional instruments captivated him since childhood.
In his youth, Baber was a recluse and did not watch television, spending his free time extracting music from everyday objects. Later, he received a music education at the California Institute of the Arts and Berklee College of Music, and then founded his studio, Johnnyrandom.
Calling it a “creative audioboutique” for composers and sound designers, Baber accumulated significant experience in unconventional performance at the studio. When Doritos needed the sound of crunching for a commercial, Baber recorded hundreds of variations of chewing and smacking and layered the 15 best ones, giving the brand its uniqueness and setting an incredibly high standard for such sound.
In 2006, Baber had already played on bicycle parts when the advertising firm Goodby, Silverstein & Partners asked him to record a part from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” on them. The melody became a hit and quickly spread across the internet, and the musician began to think about something bigger.
“Until then, I had never been satisfied with my results,” admits Baber. “Even the works of my favorite composers sounded noisy, atonal, or arrhythmic on the objects I chose.” Advances in contact microphone sensitivity, improved analog-to-digital conversion, and increased sampling frequencies make the sound cleaner and allow for capturing subtle nuances. Working on “Bespoken” gave Baber confidence that in the future, he will be able to create even faster compositions.
What will Baber perform as an encore after his magnificent performance on the bicycle? “The other day, I dropped a teaspoon, and it bounced off the edge of the countertop with such a resonant sound, as if it wanted to be heard. I looked at it and said, ‘Alright, you’re next.'”