Not many improvising musicians show up for the gig in spandex, but Taylor Ho Bynum is an exception. Just don’t expect him to appear in hair-metal meggings, however. This summer, his uniform will be bike shorts and a helmet, as he’s taking his cornet on an 1,800-mile Acoustic Bicycle Tour of the West Coast, all the way from Vancouver to the Mexican border.
“After this,” the soft-spoken virtuoso quips, “I’ll need to find some projects that don’t involve me risking my life and exhausting myself—like just showing up with my band and doing my music!”
Having played with such giants as Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, and Wadada Leo Smith, Ho Bynum has long been a sonic adventurer. And this isn’t the first time the New Haven, Connecticut, resident has tackled the physical challenge of a two-wheeled journey: in 2010, he spent two weeks cycling around New England, often playing for free in parks.
“One of the best parts of it, for me, was the chance to sort of proselytize for the weird music I make,” he explains, on the line from his home. “Because people were interested in the idea—the question of ‘What the hell are you doing?’—it gave me a chance to articulate the things that are important to me about the music. There’s this basic analogy between the journey of playing creative improvised music and the journey of travelling by bicycle. It’s a longer journey, and it’s a harder journey, and you don’t know exactly how you’re going to get there.
“I’m not doing this because I’m trying to get from Vancouver to Mexico; it’s not about the destination,” he adds. “And that’s the same thing with the music. It’s not about going to hear the pop stuff that you recognize, and that’s what you’re waiting for at the concert. It’s about having an experience that you haven’t had before.”
Ho Bynum’s Acoustic Bicycle Tour is also a research project: the cornetist intends to gather what it feels like to play facing the sea stacks of the Oregon coast and among the giant trees of California’s Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and in turn those impressions will feed his future music-making.
“As excited as I am about the concerts I’m doing and the musicians I get to play with, and I’m thrilled about that, almost a bigger part of it is having a journey that ends up being very meditative and contemplative,” he says. “When you’re on a bike for seven or eight hours a day you don’t listen to music, you don’t have the phone on, you don’t have email. You’re just in this space, and a very beautiful space. Distracted by the pain in your body, perhaps, but mostly it’s a chance for a depth of reflection that it’s hard to get in the contemporary world.”
Which leaves us with just one pressing question: will his solo sunset performance at Wreck Beach next week be a clothing-optional event for the performer as well as the audience?
“If I’m going to start off this crazy journey there,” Ho Bynum says, “there would be something nicely ritualistic about it—like, ‘Yeah, I’m making myself vulnerable here, people! Actually and emotionally naked!’ But I’m not sure yet. I’ll see how brave I’m feeling.”
Taylor Ho Bynum opens the Acoustic Bicycle Tour with a free performance at Wreck Beach next Thursday (August 28). Next Friday (August 29), he and clarinetist François Houle will play the Apartment, and next Saturday (August 30) he’ll be joined by pianist Lisa Cay Miller and drummer Skye Brooks at the China Cloud.