Interview with Reynaliz Herrera by Kerrie Kemperman
Hi, Reynaliz! I was so excited to hear you were making an album. Tell us about that experience and your creative process.
I have been writing music for bicycles and performing my own bicycle music for 11 years now. I have used the bicycle as a musical instrument in a lot of different ways, but I always wanted to write a piece for bicycle and orchestra. Since that was a big project to take on, I was waiting for the right moment to do it. In 2021 I was privileged to be awarded two grants: an LCC grant from the Somerville Arts Council and a Live Arts Boston grant from The Boston Foundation, both of which made it financially possible for me to create and compose “BIKEncerto: a concerto for solo bicycle and orchestra,” as well as to produce live performances at the Somerville Community Growing Center.
I also wanted to make a professional recording of the piece and, after a lot of thought, I decided, “Why not go all the way and actually make an album?” Luckily, part of my Boston Foundation grant also helped me fund part of the recording.
I founded my theatrical percussion company "Ideas, Not Theories" in 2012 and when I wrote "BIKEncerto" in 2021 my vision was to include the piece as one of my many "bicycle music" programs offered by the company, and ultimately that is why I created my own orchestra called the "Ideas, Not Theories Orchestra" comprised of local, Massachusetts-based, musicians. I was happy to have Amelia Hollander Ames act as guest conductor and to feature myself as the bicycle percussion soloist for both the premiere live performance and the recording of the album.
With “BIKEncerto" I challenged myself to explore the bicycle as a musical instrument in a more mature, nuanced, and in-depth way. It is comprised of four different movements. In "I. Everything Movement” I featured all of the different sounds of the bicycle, and the orchestration was influenced by octatonic scales and free jazz. In "II. Spokes Movement” I explored and featured the sounds of the spokes using my own “Spokes Keyboard” that I built and designed. In this movement you will hear melodies with the spokes accompanied by a colorful and playful blend of the strings and woodwinds; here, I was inspired by Balinese Gamelan music. In "III. Metallic Movement”, I explored in detail all the metallic sounds of the bicycle (frame tubes, chain-wheel, spoke protector disc, wheel rim, etc.); atonal music, Latin rhythms, polyrhythms, and mechanic feel are heard in this movement. In "IV. Tires Movement” I explored and featured the sounds of the tires, using my own “Tires Keyboard” that I built and designed. Here I was inspired by Brazilian Samba music, where I blended everything together simulating an “Orchestral Carnival”.
For some of the movements I wrote the orchestration first and then added the bicycle solo part on top of that, and for other movements I started with the bicycle musical ideas first, and then I wrote the orchestra accompaniment on top of it. While writing the Metallic Movement, I was just playfully tapping on the bike one day, and after hearing what I'd done, I liked it, saw potential in it, and visualized what I could do with it. The entire movement was born out of those 3 or 4 simple rhythmic measures on the bike. Sometimes people think that creating a musical piece or a work of art is an organized process, I would say it is the opposite: It is messy and chaotic, and I try to somehow find the order in that mess!
My album "BIKEncerto: a concerto for solo bicycle and orchestra” was released worldwide on June 30th, 2023! People can listen to it on all major digital platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon Music, and Bandcamp. It is available for streaming as well as download. You can also listen or purchase on Bandcamp.
You can also find more information about the album on my website.
What local events are you doing in support of the album?
I had an Album Release Party on July 1st in the café at Arts at the Armory! Additionally, I am very excited to be performing my “Ideas, Not Theories – Full Staged Show” at the Cambridge Public Library on July 8th (11am), and “Ideas, Not Theories – Bicycle Orchestra” at ArtBeat on July 15th (11:30am & 1:30pm).
Since I was an LCC fellowship grantee this year, my performance at ArtBeat will be supported in part by the Somerville Arts Council, a local agency supported in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
How and why did you choose the bicycle as your musical instrument?
After graduating from the Boston Conservatory in 2012 with a Master of Music in percussion, I was at a crossroads about what I wanted to do with music. I wanted to find my own artistic and musical voice and was pondering the question, "Who am I” in music -- and I was broke. I had the idea of street performing or busking in order to make some money, but after trying to do that in different ways, I realized that bringing big and heavy percussion instruments on the T was difficult and expensive. After almost giving up on the busking idea, I thought, "Hey, why don’t I just drum on my bike?" I got super excited about this idea. I started exploring and cataloguing all of the bicycle sounds, creating my own bike notation, as well as writing my first pieces for bicycles! I did end up busking using my bicycle as my instrument, but I also started my journey writing and composing many original pieces for bicycle(s)!
I started my company “Ideas, Not Theories” that same year, and created and performed my first piece involving bicycles, which I premiered in Monterrey, Mexico. I knew in my heart that composing music for bicycles and performing my own bicycle music was what I was meant to be doing and ultimately could call it my musical voice.
What do you mean by “Ideas, Not Theories”?
I was realizing that I wasn't able to express myself anymore as a purely classical percussionist, and I was feeling trapped. I wanted to liberate myself from the strictness of purely classical music and classical percussion, and wanted to find a more "Me" way of expressing myself. When I came up with "Ideas, Not Theories", ideas referred to openness, freedom, and possibility, and theories referred to strictness, and to something that is already set. The name conveys my desire to express myself freely and finding possibility.
Tell us a bit about your general and musical background.
I was born in Monterrey, Mexico in 1984 and I grew up there. I started my musical studies in Monterrey at the Escuela Superior de Musica y Danza with Noel Savon, and then when I was 19 moved to Ottawa, Canada to enroll at the University of Ottawa in order to study for my Bachelor of Music with Prof. Ian Bernard. While in Canada I got so many performance opportunities: I performed recitals including my own music at the National Arts Center of Canada, as a marimba soloist with the National Arts Center Orchestra several times, as well as with other orchestras. In 2010 I came to Boston to pursue my masters degree, and I stayed here working as a musician and eventually married my wife, Kristina, and now I live here and we both call it home!
Throughout my musical career I have performed as a classical percussionist, playing with different orchestras, as a soloist, and chamber musician. I have also performed in a lot of contemporary and multi-disciplinary projects and with dance companies and theater companies (e.g., Double Edge Theater in 2020). I have also played in rock bands, and world music ensembles like Flamenco, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, etc.
For the last 11 years I have focused my energy on directing, performing, and composing for my “Ideas, Not Theories” company, and composing and performing my original bicycle music. In each of my compositions I feature and explore the bicycle inside a different format and style: in the rock band format, concerto and orchestral format, theatrical staged format, etc. I have performed with “Ideas, Not Theories” in the U.S, Canada, Mexico, and recently Barbados, at different festivals, museums, theaters, art centers, and all types of events!
Tell us about your recent performance in Barbados.
This past March I got to travel to Barbados to perform at the Bridgetown International Arts Festival! I performed “Ideas, Not Theories – Bicycle Beats”, which is my original percussion piece for bicycle solo. People in Barbados are so nice and hospitable, and the island is so beautiful too! I got to meet so many other performers from the Caribbean and from around the world!
Who are some of the influences who've inspired your work?
In my school years I felt really inspired by John Cage and his ideas about music and art; Evelyn Glennie (percussionist) inspired me to find my own path and my own voice as an artist. My parents, who are also artists, and my former teachers — Ian Bernard, Bob Becker, Noel Savon, Jose Garza, Sam Solomon, and Keith Aleo — have inspired me. I grew up playing music as part of my mother’s contemporary dance company, “Danza Contemporanea en Concierto”, and I think that experience really inspired me to think outside the box, explore with found objects, multi-disciplinary arts, and to write my own music.
How would you describe your work/life balance?
That’s a good question! The past decade I have found a good balance between following my passion AND making a living, which I do through a combination of composing, performing, and teaching. I also enjoy biking, traveling, the outdoors, exploring the city, exploring new arcades, and spending time with my wife, Kristina, as well as my family and friends!
And, lastly, what’s one of your favorite places in Somerville?
I love spending time at Davis Square — I love the vibe there and just sitting at a cafe and doing work. I am also loving the bike path and attending festivals!
Food-wise, I have been a fan of Tenoch and some other taco places in East Somerville!
Please provide any social media links you would like to share.
Company/Act name (of all images attached): “Ideas, Not Theories. By Reynaliz Herrera”
Photographers (of images attached):
Meg Ramirez: image with 3 people playing the bikes
Aram Boghosian: image with 6 people on bikes
Kristina Cohen: headshot image with only a face and a wheel
Anthony Tran: “Studio Recording” photo with full orchestra
Reynaliz Herrera (photographer & album cover art design): Album Cover Art of “BIKEncerto Album”