ps[c]yched, for string quartet, bikes and electronics, was commissioned by the Coull Quartet and Third Ear Music with support from the PRS for Music Foundation. It was made for Sound of Sport Glasgow, a day of performances and sport workshops centred on public engagement leading up to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Subsequently it travelled to Derry to the Walled City Music Festival.

The brief was to create a piece related to sport in some way. Cycling was for me the obvious choice. It’s both an elite sport and an everyday activity, familiar pretty much to everybody. It is both a pleasurable, reflective activity, and a functional mode of transport. It has a complex social history that permeates cultures globally. It takes physical energy and stamina, much like musical performance; it can be slow and aimless, a way of exploring, or escaping. In cycling, we inhabit a liminal place, in direct contact with the world but also at slight remove from it through a motion just that bit faster than walking. It’s also interestingly a cybernetic augmentation – a machine that starts to feel like a part of us, in contact with us in intimate, multi sensory ways.

The piece explores the familiar sounds of bikes – clicks, clunks and whirring – as well as the less familiar, such as the bowing of spokes. The quartet players move back and forth between their instruments and four upturned bikes, using the cycles to generate sound that is picked up live by contact mics and transformed into sustained granular textures. These sounds are analysed for their spectral content and then translated into real-time staff notation of microtonal pitches, displayed to the players on laptop screens. Because the notated quartet material is derived directly from the spectra of the bike sounds, much of what the quartet plays effectively mirrors the bike timbres, creating a kind of perspective or spectral cross-fading of string sounds and bike sounds. Substantial development work went into building a system for the extraction of useful data from the wide variation of timbres resulting from not just four different bikes used in one performance, but potentially any bike that might need to be co-opted for the purpose in whichever location the piece is being performed. This data is communicated over a local network to a real-time notation system built in Processing specifically for this piece, called notercycle.

All the patches and notercycle processing scripts can be found here.