Beginning on August 28 in Vancouver, composer and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum (2013 Performing Arts) embarks on his Acoustic Bicycle Tour, a five-week, 1,800-mile performance journey of the West Coast that concludes at the Mexican border. Conceiving of the entire trip as a kind of composition, Bynum will travel solely by bicycle, presenting solo concerts and playing with ensembles of area musicians in a variety of contexts and venues ranging from pop-up outdoor concerts to art galleries to concert halls. The endeavor is a performance art piece, a philosophical statement, a celebration of musical community and an exercise in extreme physicality.
Highlights from the planned performances include duets and small ensembles with some of the finest musicians on the coast, including trumpeter Cuong Vu (9/3, Seattle, WA), pianist Myra Melford (9/19, San Francisco, CA) and bassist Mark Dresser (9/29, Mission Viejo, CA); large ensembles of local artists performing Bynum’s compositions and conducted improvisations, including the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (9/7, Portland, OR) and Phillip Greenlief’s OrcheSperry (9/16, Berkeley, CA); and two concerts featuring the music of Bynum’s longtime mentor and collaborator Anthony Braxton—a quartet co-led with saxophonist James Fei exploring Braxton’s classic 1970s small group music (9/17, Oakland, CA), then a concert under the leadership of the maestro at the Angel City Jazz Festival (9/27, Los Angeles, CA). Bynum will also appear at the Angel City Jazz Festival as a leader, with an all-star band of Los Angeles-area musicians performing music from his critically acclaimed Sextet and 7-tette recordings (9/28, Los Angeles, CA).
I connected with Taylor to learn more about this project and his preparations for hitting the road.
Jenny Gill: How have you been preparing for this bike tour, physically, mentally and musically?
Taylor Ho Bynum: It’s been interesting to me how much of the physical preparation in bike training is like musical practice. I’ve been biking a lot this summer—every nook and cranny of the fifty mile radius around New Haven. It’s like running scales and rudiments on the instrument—it gets you ready and keeps you in shape, but is nothing like the real thing! So I look forward to finally leaving the practice room (both literally and figuratively) and actually diving into the journey.
In terms of mental preparation, I’ve just been vacillating between moments of extreme excitement and abject terror. Both are good things—both are what I look for as an artist, so I feel like this project is what I should be doing right now.
VIDEO: Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet performs “Apparent Distance Part 3: Source” at Le Poisson Rouge in New York in 2011
Jenny: You’re considered to be a master of improvisation in your performance work. Did you try to apply that same spirit or approach when planning this trip—to strike a balance between careful pre-planning and creating opportunities for chance encounters and experiences?
Taylor: “Master of improvisation”? Not sure I would say that—the joy of improvisation is one is a perpetual student, I’m not sure I ever could (or would want to) be a master. In fact, messing up and making mistakes is at the core of my performance aesthetic! But indeed, I think the idea of this project and that sense of improvisation is deeply related—not necessarily “free” improvisation, but “navigation through form,” as my man Anthony Braxton would say. I want to set up enough of a structure to ensure an interesting challenge and a compelling experience, but keep it open enough to have the wonderful surprise of the spontaneous moment.
Jenny: Aside from the music you’ll be writing and playing during your bike tour, how do you see this project as a larger statement? What conversations do you hope to trigger with this action?
Taylor: While I’m incredibly excited about the music I’ll get to make on this trip (and especially excited for the wonderful musicians I’ll get to play with on the way), ultimately I think this project is almost more experiential than performative. Both in terms of how the experience itself will shape my mental, physical, and creative self by the time I step on a stage, and in terms of how it allows me a different kind of interaction with the audiences (and “non-audiences”) I will encounter on the road.
My ideal listener is one who comes to my music with no preconceptions, just an open mind and an interest in a new kind of musical experience. By undertaking a tour like this, offering such an unusual larger context, I hope to shake folks into that kind of open mind—upend people’s expectations from the get-go (literally: from how I got to where I’m going) I’m trying to apply the same creative principle that I use within my music to the context of my music—where I play, how I get there, who I play for. Ideally, beyond providing listeners with a satisfying artistic experience, the project will also spur the audience to ask themselves similar questions.
VIDEO: Taylor Ho Bynum presents The Acoustic Bicycle Tour at the 2013 Creative Capital Artist Retreat
Jenny: What impact or outcomes do you hope this trip will have for you personally? What about for the folks you encounter along the way?
Taylor: Beyond the fairly extreme physical challenge of biking a couple thousand miles, the experience also provides a tremendous amount of solitary time on the road, for meditation, contemplation and introspection. I feel like I’m at a transitional point in my art and in my life—I have no idea what direction I’ll be going in next, but I feel like I need this project in this moment to think about what next. I don’t want to put the expectation on the trip that it will be personally or creatively transformational, but I’m not going to rule it out either! I’d also like to use it as a time for writing—both music and words. Sometimes to get the creative juices flowing, it helps to be shaken out of one’s regular routine—this will certainly do that.
In terms of the folks I encounter, if nothing else, I hope the narrative of the trip might give some people a fresh insight on the processes of creative improvisation and composition that informed this project’s structure, and let them think about ways it could inform their own life and choices. And maybe inspire some folks to jump on a bike rather than get in a car.
Jenny: What other projects do you have in the works?
Taylor: I’m turning 40 next year (which I’ve certainly been feeling while trying to get in shape!), so I’m hoping to do some retrospectives of the work I’ve been developing over the past two decades. I’m hoping to perform and tour with my regular Sextet more in support of our most recent 4-album set Navigation (the title perhaps not a coincidence in relation to the bike project), and also will be premiering some big band and creative orchestra music both in the U.S. and abroad. It also looks like I’ll be going to Miami-Dade College for a residency built around the bike tour ideas—doing more regional explorations of this project is something I look forward to over the next few years. But I also look forward to some new ideas, as yet undefined, that might arise from my experiences on the road this September.
For a full performance itinerary, an interactive map of Taylor’s route, and to follow his daily dispatches from the road, visit www.acousticbicycletour.com.