05 March 2009

Kagel's music for 111 bikes puzzles commuters, delights press

I intended to go along and watch the street performance of Kagel's Eine Brise, for 111 bicycles, this morning. I ended up being pressganged into taking part.

The piece last about 3-4 minutes and requires 111 cyclists to pedal slowly round a short circuit in a town centre. Signs put up at various points instruct them to ring their bells, sing a vowel sound, whistle, make a whooshing noise, go 'rrrrr', or be silent. The organisers had called in the services of some London Chamber Orchestra people who had got hold of the score, couriered from New York, just a day before the performance.

It was all part of the East Festival, which has some more bike-related events over the next few days.

I was out for a birthday breakfast beforehand. Some of the presents were wrapped in that A-Z streetmap paper (top right). Fortunately one of them had just the section I was heading for: Lamb St, by Spitalfields, near Liverpool St station off Bishopsgate.

I was pounced on about 9ish when I arrived by one of the t-shirted organiserettes. They were a bit short of the 111 intended by offbeat composer Mr Kagel - about 90 short, in fact. All those times I've turned up to a performance at Covent Garden or the Coliseum with a part memorised just in case the tenor drops out at the last minute, and at last my chance!

So I was kitted up with a festival t-shirt the colour of a felt tip pen and put through a quick rehearsal by Mark of the London Chamber Orchestra. Most important was the fact that my bike has a bell - mine's tuned to a high E. No, actually, most important is that Carluccio's provided free coffee.

After a couple of run-throughs, we did our performance at about 9.40am to a decent contingent of the world's press. In fact, there were more people behind lenses than there were in front of them.

They demanded an encore. An audience demanding this in a concert hall this would mean we'd been very good. The press demanding this in a shopping precinct meant we'd been rubbish. It meant they needed some decent footage for the 'And finally' section of the Latvian evening news, and they hadn't yet got it. Which meant there was a chance we'd be replaced by YouTube footage of a skateboarding dog.

So we did another run, and this time we nailed it. A lot of these crazy modern performance pieces - whether seriously philosophical like Cage's et al, half-joking like Kagel's, or (to me) utterly weird like Cardew's - fall embarrassingly flat unless you go for it totally, ignoring how silly you feel. And then, curiously, they actually work. (Perhaps an evening performance after half a bottle of wine each, rather than on the way to work in front of bemused suits, might work better.)

And it was all very sociable. I chatted to a friendly lass from Newcastle who was also participating. Well, she claimed to be from Newcastle, but she wasn't wearing only a skimpy t-shirt or high heels, even though it was freezing cold.

We may only have been two dozen cyclists instead of the full Nelson, but, do you know, I think it rather worked. Plus I'm a free lime green festival t-shirt two sizes too small to the good.

So hats off to Mauricio Kagel.

And now I can go and listen to some Shostakovich instead.


  1. Next time I'll be sure to wear my NUFC top with mini skirt and stilettos when cycling!
    The photo's look great and really capture the event.

    Northern Lass

  2. That would definitely count as Real Cycling!