Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In B flat

One of my students recently showed me In Bb 2.0, "a collaborative music/spoken word project." I gather it has been around since the spring, and might be old news to some of you, but if not, check it out.

It's pretty awesome. The creator, Darren Solomon, noted that the flash-based video player used by YouTube and other video hosting services allows for multiple players to go at once, and this can sound pretty cool. After experimenting a bit, he invited people to submit YouTube videos of themselves playing different instruments in the key flat. There are some standard choices--a violin, muted trumpet, piano, etc--together with an e-bowed banjo, the KORG MS-10 emulator available on a Nintendo DS, and, most interestingly, one bit of spoken word performance. Solomon chose examples he liked, and puts them all on the one page. You, the user, can stop and start videos at will, adjusting levels easily.

My class had a fun time playing around with it, managing to get every single video going at one point. While there is obviously a lot of freedom on the part of the players, Solomon does specify that "simple, floating textures work best, with no tempo or groove," and that thick, low sounds don't work well. And since he gets to choose the videos, presumably he enforces that aesthetic. He does a good job. Just when the sound world threatens to veer into just a dull wash of sound, you stumble across a few modules that contain more discrete, articulated sounds--the spoken word, for example, and the DS-10, retained my interest for quite a long time.

The obvious musical ancestor, as Solomon notes and my class quickly saw, is In C. Or at least, both are made of discrete short modules that work well against each other in almost any combination. In each piece the modules can also be repeated at will, although the lack of a "loop" button on a flash video player makes repetition cumbersome, and Solomon recommends beginning and ending clips with ten or so seconds of silence. That fading in means you miss the exciting moments that can occur during In C when some polyrhythm suddenly pops up. And of course, the big difference is that the modules of In Bb (it seems better to hyperlink than italicize the name of the piece) can go in any order, rather than that prescribed by Terry Riley.

Coincidentally, another class I'm teaching just covered In C. Our study included doing our best to play through it. None of them are music majors, so we had an eclectic range of instruments: a sax, a guitar, two pianists, and about five people smacking music stands. I was the pulse, and I will be honest with you, we only made it up to about module 15 before falling apart. But I think everyone had a good time, and we reconvened near the end to finish things off. Got to hand it to In C--still has it after all of these years.


Zach said...

These sorts of interactive, collaborative projects online never fail to put a smile on my face. It's a bit like a more spacey and ethereal version of the "Playing for Change" project:

rrb said...

This is fabulous. What I find particularly mesmerizing, in addition to the sonic experience, is the visual mash-up of performers and scenes in front of me. I've just been watching some of the videos with the sound off while audio from the others accompanies. (Like the second screen diagonally up from the bottom right-hand corner with the balloons mashed-up with the top right corner).
I'm totally going to use it when we get to In C in my class this semester.