Bicyclists as Musicians, City as Acoustic Shell: Kagel’s “Eine Brise” in Los Angeles

Hi, I’m Adonia. My fieldwork investigates how bicyclists co-create public spaces. I lived in Los Angeles from 2008 to 2011. Just about two years ago, I received an invitation to participate in a concert with my bicycle. The Colburn School, a performing arts academy in downtown Los Angeles, was staging a performance of Mauricio Kagel’s “Eine Brise.” Kagel was a Argentine-German composer who wrote this piece in 1996 for…111 bicyclists, to be performed outside while riding past an audience. According to Jerry Grimshaw on Allmusic, Kagel often experimented with “instrumental theater” by incorporating musicians’ movements into his compositions.

I showed up at the appointed time and place, sometime after dark on Lower Grand in Bunker Hill. An artifact of the total demolition and re-grade of the Bunker Hill neighborhood in the 1960s, Lower Grand runs for a short distance underneath Grand Avenue near the Walt Disney Concert Hall and MOCA. I had biked and walked over Lower Grand many times without realizing it. It looked like a parking garage, and was filled with bicyclists. Each performer was given a number, a score, and a bicycle bell, and we shuffled about till it was time to rehearse. We would be whooshing, whistling, and ringing our bells as we rode past the audience outside the performance hall above us.

Another performer, YouTube user Mueslimorsels, documented our rehearsal. First, we practiced the specified whistle:

Then, we had to choose whether to whoosh or flutter our tongues:

Finally, and most magically of all, we practiced ringing our bells according to the score:

A performer with the YouTube handle Dickensb posted a video of our dress rehearsal on Lower Grand:

Bicycling through a city surrounds you with sound and encourages you to take advantage of acoustic possibilities like tunnels. Just around the corner from this this space is the 2nd Street Tunnel, a favorite route for group rides in LA. Here’s a video of January 2010′s Critical Mass by YouTube user Lakersalex:

Riding through that tunnel is so much fun. Flashing lights become disco hoops on the white-tiled walls, and the most mild-mannered hoot becomes a police siren. I think Kagel’s piece, by synchronizing our exuberance, exaggerates the individual sensuality of bicycling and makes it into a spectacle for onlookers. At the same time, I think that the individual performer experiences less of the high that can come from biking in the city. Some of the other performers I met were there because of their interest in music rather than urban cycling, and had driven to the site with bikes in their cars. Others were bike advocates I knew. I wondered how outlandish our performance would seem to spectators who had never tried bicycling in LA.

Mueslimorsels’ video shows the performers’ perspective:

And here is the spectacle as witnessed from the sidewalk, posted by Daneerod1:

I loved participating in “Eine Brise.” I do think, though, that the private thrill of biking under Bunker Hill wins out over the mannered performance of urban cycling for an audience up above.

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One Response to Bicyclists as Musicians, City as Acoustic Shell: Kagel’s “Eine Brise” in Los Angeles

  1. It’s interesting how this ride passed under and then passed by Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, with its best-that-money-can-buy acoustic architecture and the world’s (rightfully) most hyped conductor, Dudamel. “Eine Brise” flips the concert hall logic and experience. Your performance cycling with (mostly) amateur musicians transformed the city into an outdoor, mobile concert, with contingently created acoustics sounding out the architectural space of the city.

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