Friday, January 25, 2008

Take the telegraph's musical motorcycle challenge.

Under the baton: bikes are often perceived as a nuisance, but could they be harnessed to make sweet music?
From the
"The composer Karlheinz Stockhausen might have been regarded as radical for his love of discordant noise, but you don't have to be a paid-up member of the musical avant-garde to appreciate the characteristic sound of a Ducati or the meaty roar of a Harley-Davidson, so distinctive that the company actually tried to patent it. Motor manufacturers are very aware that our relationship with engines has always been both psychological and physical and far more complex than a simple appreciation of the motive power required to take us from A to B. They recognise the significance of sound in what is sometimes an illusory experience of speed, and a great deal of time, effort and money is spent in creating the right exhaust note. The technology might be available to make vehicles as silent as cats, but they would be dangerous for all road users, especially pedestrians. What's more, they would be no fun. Who wants a Ducati (or a Ferrari 430, a Jaguar XK or a Mazda MX-5 for that matter) that sounds like an electric milk float?

The sonic appeal of motorcycle engines was certainly not what the aristocrat Jens Henrik Jespersen had in mind in 1862 when he built Sølyst, a secluded lakeside hunting lodge in Jyderup, Denmark. But 145 years on it has become a centre for intercultural dialogue and the Sølyst International Art Residency (SAIR) programme, and as a participating artist with an interest in all things motoring, I was about to give Jespersen's ghost a loud wake-up call by instigating the Rush exhibition, aiming to celebrate the ritual territorialism of local youth as they mapped out their home town on their beloved scooters.

Beyond the picturesque Sølyst, which locals call "the castle", Jyderup is a small town consisting of neat rows of modest houses built on completely flat terrain around a series of interconnecting car parks and discount supermarkets, with a single-track railway slicing noisily through its quiet heart. In such an isolated place, where the cinema was turned into a washing-machine shop several years ago, my sympathies lay with the baggy-trousered teenagers who let their neighbours know that there was still some life in the town. Their two-wheeled displays were regarded as nothing more than noise pollution by many residents, but to the kids they were a song of liberation.

One element of the exhibition would be filmed in the grounds of Sølyst, where the scooter engines would be played at full throttle to explore their musical attributes. This would be contrasted with a presentation of the scooter boys and their bikes in almost static video portraits, conveying a stately dignity reminiscent of formal 19th-century photographs of Danish nobles and their hunting dogs.

As an outsider who spoke no Danish, creating such an event was a huge challenge. I not only had to win the disaffected youngsters' trust but gain access to the disused interior of the railway station where they usually congregated, obtain permission to hold the exhibition there, design posters and frame pictures, edit video footage, blag projectors and monitors, all on a zero budget. It would have been impossible without the support of SAIR's ever-enthusiastic Tina Bundgaard Qudenbaum, her industrious assistant Henrik Andersen and Mr Fixit, Svend-aage Larsen of the Art Workshop of West Zealand.

On the appointed day, my arrival at the railway station with journalists from Danish radio and the local paper, Folkebladet, in tow was pretty embarrassing. Despite their initial interest, none of the scooter boys had actually turned up. Frantic phone calls established that the promotional posters had been interpreted as a police trap for illegal machines and riders, as a recent local crackdown had already led to arrests and the confiscation of several mopeds.

Yet amid the chaos, against all the odds, the scooter boys were eventually persuaded to emerge and participate, scoring several firsts: the first art exhibition ever held in the town and the first opportunity to find positive potential in something that had been regarded as a social problem.

Nature has blessed other towns with more spectacular landscapes and better climates, but the true test of a place and its people is when you're up against it, have no money and can appeal only to the inhabitants' imagination, generosity of spirit, tolerance and co-operation. My sincere thanks therefore go to Hans Erik Baagland, who backed the concept from the start and gave access to the upper floors of the railway station for the exhibition, sealing the deal with minimal fuss and a firm handshake, to the Experts TV shop's Anders Baagland, who supplied all the audiovisual equipment, to Folkebladet's intrepid reporter Mikkel Schou, to Trina of Danish radio, who kindly covered the whole escapade, to the SAIR programme and, most of all, to the young scooterists of Jyderup.

And if they can do it, so can you. Do you have the throttle control to make your engine sing? Can you, your friends or club come together as an orchestra of internal combustion?

If so, The Telegraph wants to hear from you - literally. Record the national anthem (for copyright reasons we can't accept anything else) and send us your performance and we will publish the best of them online.

We're not expecting anything as impressive as the Renault Formula One engine programmed to play God Save the Queen (although it must be possible to improve on its hilarious rendition of La Marseillaise - you can hear both in the 8/7/06 recording here, but who knows what musical motorcycling talent might be out there? Give it a go.

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