Music In the Digital Age Sparks Creation of the Open Source Music Festival
By Brian Taylor, Contributing Writer, November 10, 2017
Virtuoso pianist Joel Fan, a celebrated champion of new music and member of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, is launching the Open Source Music Festival at the Lower East Side’s Abrons Art Center on November 16—18. This is a multi-faceted event featuring timely panel discussions exploring creative rights in the digital age, and a day of performances by a variety of contemporary musicians from a variety of musical genres highlighted by the premiere of a suite of pieces called Couplets commissioned by Fan.
Audiences are able to purchase an All-Festival Pass providing access to all the events, including the panel and networking mixer, “Digital Rights: Impact of the Blockchain on Music and the Arts” on Thursday, a VIP cocktail reception on Friday, and the day-long Festival Concert starting at noon on Saturday. The overarching concept of “Open Source,” as a musical idea comes from Fan’s fascination with the tradition of solo piano transcriptions: “On my very first album, I recorded the Liszt Concert Paraphrase of Verdi’s Rigoletto, which is the Quartet from Rigoletto turned into a virtuoso piano piece. Transcriptions have always been a very core part of the solo piano literature.”
Music’s tradition of sharing material and building upon earlier work can be viewed as anticipating today’s modern world: “The fact that we’re all now so dependent on our iPhones and Androids, the core of the iPhone is actually open source, which is software that was written not in the old fashioned way, in terms of someone would write something and they don’t allow someone to build upon it — open source came about as a reaction against strict copyright rules slowing down innovation. So once that happened, we got this explosion of creativity, and that’s really influenced our lives today.”
Fan continues, “So this idea of open source, in terms of all these web services that we use, the phones that we use, and all the connectivity that’s empowered by open source software, I thought to myself, well, how does this idea relate to the music world? Thereby we get this Open Source Music Festival where we’re exploring these kinds of collaborations, the sharing and reinvention of materials, and provide a forum for that.
“It turns out that companies today, they don’t use just copyrighted software or open source software, they’re using a continuum. Your iPhone has both open source influence as well as Apple-copyrighted components. So I feel like it’s a continuum of creativity and of how the creators now have all these different ways to determine how people will license their work products.”
The festival opens with what should be an interesting panel discussion on Thursday about creative digital rights. Fan explains, “the idea being there that we’re now also in an era beyond just being able to share and remix and all that sort of stuff that’s so interesting, but we’re getting to the era of having all these granular tools for creators to determine where the future rights of someone are later down the line. All this digitization is actually going to benefit people creating any work of art today, whether it’s music, graphic design, regular artwork, or software art. It’s going to empower your future user: are they going to be allowed to redistribute it for free, can they build upon it?”
Fan envisions the Open Source Music Festival as “an umbrella to explore this question. There are no answers, only questions, explorations, and art to be created.” The variety of performers and genres featured in the festival on Saturday will make for a rich day of listening. “The idea behind Open Source is an attempt at community and collaboration, and the feeling that more minds working on different things can lead to better results and that’s part of it. Even the way we’re operating the festival, having each of these great artists, allowing them to pick and choose their own material was part of our concept. For example, the electronic artist, there’s always sampling going on, so that was a very direct analog here, anyone borrowing. And obviously jazz is another very good example, and we have this great jazz guitarist, Ben Monder, the idea of how in jazz they’re constantly adapting and riffing off of source material created on the fly. We of course have the piano works that I’m playing, and so in some sense the idea of open source gave us the leeway to bring on board artists of different genres,” says Fan.
The concert opens with jazz guitarist Ben Monder at noon, and continues with solo baritone Jeffrey Gavett, percussion trio TIGUE, cellist Jeffrey Ziegler, electronic music by Teengirl Fantasy and ADR, followed by a reception where concertgoers will be able to enjoy cocktails and food and networking, before the evening continues with Fan’s premiere of Couplets at 7pm.
Described in the press release as a “momentous commissioning project,” Couplets is a collection of pieces written by four married composer couples, all “very eminent, and highly respected and renowned composers:” Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, Augusta Read Thomas and Bernard Rands, Evan Ziporyn and Christine Southworth, Anthony Cheung and Wang Lu. The idea for this project stems from wanting “to explore the tension between what does it mean to know someone very well on a personal intimate basis, in terms of being married — you know them so well — but typically, married couples don’t actually work together, in terms of in the same line of work.
In keeping with the concept of open source, each of the couples’ pieces takes another piece of music as a starting point: “We left it up to the composer couples to determine what they wanted their source to be, the very interesting thing is how well these pieces go together. There’s a little bit of chance in there as well. Every couple handled this thought process in their own individual way, …each one has their own work process.”
“Having this tension between professional and personal, and working together to create a single work of art, that is exactly what we wanted to explore. I have been very, very impressed with the quality of the output, and the artistic integrity of every single piece that I’ve received from the eight composers. I’m actually just blown away. These are masterpieces in my opinion. The other thing that’s so exciting for me is that this is a snapshot of contemporary piano writing in 2017.”
Following Fan’s performance, the evening concludes with performances by JACK Quartet and Acoustic/Electric Septet The Cellar & Point, a NYC based ensemble combining the sensibilities of classical, jazz, and alt-rock.
Looking to the future, Fan is optimistic and visionary: “Open Source is just really the starting point. There is open source video, you could have open source film. This idea where people collaborate and someone provides the music, someone provides the animation, so it’s kind of a community effort, to create film, art, it really ties into other forms of art besides music and I’d love to extend our umbrella after this year. That’s the overall vision and I think it can be very exciting and it’s also a concept that could really travel well too.”
This ambitious and timely festival should be a wonderful day of new music and inspire artists to go out and collaborate and harness the technologies of today to create art for tomorrow.
The Open Source Music Festival will be at the Lower East Side’s Abrons Art Center, 466 Grand Street, on November 16—18. For more information about the festival and to purchase tickets click here. To purchase an All-Festival Pass that covers all of the festival’s events click here.
Cover: Joel Fan, Founder and Curator of Open Source Music Festival; courtesy of festival.