For nearly six years Ive been commuting to work by bike from Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan. Though the route has evolved somewhat with different jobs and different apartments, the routine has been fundamental to how Ive come to feel about New York and all its glorious and aggravating quirks. Biking for me is about a certain productive antagonism with the city, it’s about the freedom granted by the urban flow.
My routines are about to get radically disrupted, and I wanted to preserve something of my morning ride. Yet that ride is so kinetic, it doesnt reduce to a photograph, or even a video. However, at the lab Ive been immersed in sensor-play, and particularly interested in rhythmic data from biometrics and everyday behavior. So I started experimenting with different types of data from my ride.
Forty-eight to Sixteen is the result. It documents the commute (about 7.5 miles) with sensors for my heartrate, breathing, and the cadence of my pedaling, along with chest-mounted video (heartrate and cadence via a Garmin Forerunner, breathing via a microphone recording to iPhone with custom signal processing). Cellist and close friend Topu Lyo interprets my experience via a composition I derived from the sources that is precisely timed with the video. That step, having someone else experience the data from the other end, feels critical to me, it emphasizes that the data are not so much objective as lived. Im interested in my and Topu’s divergent but equally physical relationship to the information, and in general the notion of ‘performing’ data.
There is more programming in this piece than might be evident at first. Aside from data wrangling, the constantly varying tempo changes in all three parts made this tricky to pull off. I ended up building an interface that resembles Rock Band, where Topu could anticipate the timing of the notes as they scrolled toward him on the staff (Im indebted, because doing that three times for 35mins each with extremely repetitive music is quite taxing). Im looking forward to expanding on that system for future projects. The composition itself is a harmonic progression that shifts gradually but never resolves.
Currently, the piece is also showing in the window gallery at Eyebeam. When you are onsite, you can call in to a phone number to hear the audio (which is a little rough at 8khz, but I really wanted to do something with sound in that space).
For the next iteration, Im hoping to do a live performance of this with a trio of musicians — I think that would emphasize the physicality of the process. For now, enjoy the video. And afterwards go get on your bike — if nothing else, this is a love letter to NYC.