20 August 2008

New Music & Bike Rack Design

David Byrne in Times Square with an idea both artistic and practical. James Estrin/The New York Times

David Byrne is an installation artist, author, blogger, recording executive, photographer, film director and PowerPoint enthusiast. He’s even been known to dabble in music. But in certain New York neighborhoods he may be most visible as a bicycle rider, a lanky figure pedaling around the Lower East Side.

In recent years his interest in bicycles has expanded from riding them to thinking seriously about the role they play in urban life, as he has started making connections with politicians and international design consultants keen to keep cars from taking over the city. So when the Department of Transportation asked him to help judge a design competition for the city’s new bike racks, he eagerly agreed — so eagerly, in fact, that he sent in his own designs as well. On Friday nine racks made from his own whimsical designs were installed around the city. “They immediately responded, saying, ‘If you can get these made, we’ll put them through,’ “ he recalled. “I was kind of shocked.”

His Manhattan gallery, Pace/MacGill, along with PaceWildenstein, agreed to have the racks fabricated in exchange for the chance to sell them, down the line, as works of art. But for the 364 days that the racks will be out on the streets, Mr. Byrne doesn’t want them to be admired as artwork, he said; he wants them to be lashed with heavy chains, banged with Kryptonites and scratched by gears. He wants them to be used.

To avoid confusion, he kept the same square metal tubing used in the familiar U- or M-shaped racks — which Janette Sadik-Khan, the city transportation commissioner, unlovingly compares to “handcuffs chained to the street.”

The results? In addition to “The Jersey,” “The Wall Street” (the dollar sign) and “The Hipster” (the guitar): “The Chelsea”, a man; “The MoMA,” a modern abstraction; “The Coffee Cup,” by the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights; “The Villager,” a dog, for Greenwich Village; and “The Ladies’ Mile,” a single high-heeled shoe, cooling its heel outside Bergdorf Goodman.

This all comes at a strange moment for New York cyclists, when they are being depicted as both the scourge and the promise of the city. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg seems to have transferred his bets to cycling as the next best way to reduce automobile traffic. Green bike lanes are appearing all around the city. Serious people are discussing a bike-sharing program. And the Department of Transportation is making way for thousands of new bike racks around the city.

Mr. Byrne’s will be the most visible, a fact that may position him as the symbol of the civic virtues of cycling. He’s even writing a nonfiction book called “Cycling Diaries,” scheduled to appear in 2009. But soft-spoken, curious and culturally omnivorous, he’s never quite been the celebrity spokes-model type. Besides, he said, “I don’t think people are going to switch over to bikes because it’s good for them or because it’s politically correct. They’re going to do it because it gets them from A to B faster.” He has a similarly plain-spoken explanation for his own riding. “It’s a little faster than walking,” he said. “It feels good if the weather’s O.K., and if you see something that interests you, you just stop.” Every day he rides his folding Montague hybrid bike (with bell and basket) from his home in Midtown, down the Hudson River bike path to SoHo, where despite working in a very bike-friendly office — his own — he locks up on the street below.

He calls riding “a pleasure and a convenience,” but it seems to be more than that: an essential part of the way he lives in and interacts with the city. His blog, at journal.davidbyrne.com, is full of observations he has made while tooling around on two wheels. Mr. Byrne isn’t anticipating a revolution, but he does sense a shift in the wind. Riding a bicycle, “used to be completely uncool,” he said. “Now it’s cool in different ways: for some people it’s cool if you have an old junker. For other people it’s cool if you have a racing bike.

David Byrne and Brian Eno have released their first collaboration in 30 years, an eleven song album called Everything That Will Happen Will Happen Today.

Eno is quoted at The Celebrity Cafe: "I was surprised by how little attention Americans paid to their own great indigenous musical invention: gospel. It was even slightly uncool - as though the endorsement of the music entailed endorsing all the religious framework associated with it. To me gospel was a music of surrender, and the surrendering rather than the worshipping was the part that interested me."

As one might expect from innovators of this level, the album is being released in a very 2008 fashion, with help from TopSpin, a company that allows premiere artists to release stuff online.
Eno had been working these tracks for eight years until he decided that he needed "a professional" to do the vocals. When he ran into Byrne a few years ago, he played him the tracks and Byrne agreed to add vocals and a bit of music.
"For the most part, Brian did the music and I wrote some tunes, words and sang," says Byrne on the album's website. "It's familiar but completely new as well. We're pretty excited."

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