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johnny randomIt’s hard to believe it all started with a bike and a webcam. But that’s indeed the case with Flip Baber’s strong run of ‘sound compositions’ over the last few years.

Initial thanks goes to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, who asked Flip back in 2006 to see whether it was possible to create Christmas music using only Specialized bike parts. Flip discovered he could in fact play Tchaikovsky… with a little time and tinkering.

“When I started to try to make melodies from bike spokes, I noticed that most spokes have extremely chaotic and disorganized overtones,” Flip explains. “I had to record hundreds of spokes just to find one that had an overtone series capable of producing a nice melody.”

 

Adding to the challenge was his only recording device: an omnidirectional mic on his iSight webcam. “And this was before Direct Note Access technology came around,” says Flip. “So I was restricted to using straight sampling and pitch shifting of all the bike sounds to create ‘Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy’ by ear.”

His work for Specialized was an instant hit, and Flip has been tuning in audiences to the music of everyday objects ever since.

“The end goal is to change the way people perceive the environment around them.”

As a result, Flip has built a reputation at what he calls ‘sound composing’. Last summer, WQXR asked him to make common sounds of New York City into specific pieces of classical music for a series of radio spots.

“One scene is in Central Park. A jogger hears the native birds of that region start singing Vivaldi, and then it slowly segues into the orchestral version. Or a busy downtown street where car horns playfully honk harmonies of Mozart with the supporting rhythm of a construction site.”

Flips says it’s all been a huge learning process.

“The first thing I noticed is that instruments are instruments for a reason: they’re designed to have single notes that have very beautiful overtones. That’s the biggest obstacle with this ‘found sound’ composition, is that you need to either find sounds that have a really beautiful overtone system, or be able to manipulate it after the fact. I recently discovered even a martini shaker can sound like a huge gong if you mic it correctly.”

doritos crunch logo

Ironically, Flip’s most famous work to date has been him ‘just eating a bag of Doritos’. Three whole bags of Doritos, actually. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners contacted Flip about creating a crunch sound that sounded ‘as if Godzilla was eating chips’.

“I went to the store, bought three bags of chips, set up some microphones and just started eating and tried to be as loud as I could,” Flip laughs. “I should have been spitting them out, but I was very hungry and ended up with an MSG overload.

“I found the best crunches, then narrowed that down to about 15. I layered those 15 together at different amplitudes, and pitch shifted them up and down to spread it out, added a little touch of reverb, and sent it out. I must have sent them about 30 different versions. Rich Silverstein thought one of them was perfect and that was it: it’s been on every Doritos spot since 2006.”

Currently, Flip is Owner and Creative Director of Johnnyrandom, a full-service creative audio boutique specializing in original music and sound design for TV, film and interactive media. He’s also working on his first full-length CD of music comprised entirely of random sounds he’s recorded around San Francisco, titled ‘Sound Found’.

“What I’m trying to do with this album is something that’s beautiful, melodic and harmonic. Something that you’d actually listen to in your car over and over: not just listen to once as a novelty item. It’s a hell of a challenge.”

Nutcracker (Specialized)

 

Crunch Logo (Doritos)

 

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