Janis, who comments often on my posts (and who wants to be known here just by her first name), e-mailed me with a fabulous idea. In a moment, I’m going to turn this post over to her, and simply show you what she e-mailed. (Abridged a little, but I didn’t leave out anything crucial. And of course i’m doing this with her permission.)
But before I give her center stage, I want to say that I went to the Star Wars Uncut website she mentions, and believe me — it’s everything she says it is, and more. Such an outpouring of fun and creativity, from so many people, something which we haven’t yet learned how to bring into classical music. But we could!
Take a well-known shortish piece of music (not an obscure one, one that a lot of people know, like a nice standalone piece of Beethoven’s 9th or the end of the William Tell overture), and break it up into bits, perhaps twelve measures apiece.
Open them up to being “claimed” by people online, probably students. Each student claims a chunk of the music … and interprets it however they want. Some will play it straight on an oboe or violin. Others may whistle it. Others will use synths, others can hum it, still others can bang on kitchen pots. They upload their “chunks.”
Then … stitch the pieces together and play it.
My roommate, bless her, proceeded to inform me that this was exactly what’s happening at the moment with that old war-horse “Star Wars.” There is a project called “Star Wars Uncut” that illustrates this PERFECTLY, as an example of how a culture composed of people who have never met and have only a love of shared source material in common can come together and collaborate in an artistic creation via fannish riffing.
The URL is http://www.starwarsuncut.com/ — it’s amazing. It’s entirely fan-driven, completely outside the realm of “legitimate” work, and created on the fly by people who don’t know one another, and who have totally different ideas of how to interpret the source material.
They have some scenes uploaded already — click on “Watch a Finished Scene.” However, I must advise you to watch at least five of them. This will give you a massive shock in terms of the abysses between how each person or group of people chose to interpret their “chunk.” There are some conventional interps where people and their friends wore homemade costumes, but there are others that took the opportunity to take it to incredible places. Scene 23 alone will blow your mind. Scene 407 uses lego figures! Scene 221 will have you bellylaughing or gaping in bemusement, hard to tell.
Imagine doing this with a piece of music! Then stitching it together! Do it with the sponsorship of a major orchestra, which provides the servers or the money, or better yet the marketing. The orchestra can inaugurate the project at the start of its season by playing the chosen piece (or the start of the school year for a conservatory), and leave it up for the entire season or semester.
Then, at the end of the semester … the orchestra plays the chosen piece again. Then it plays the resulting MP3. And puts it up for download on its website. FOR FREE. (All participants are made to understand that their work will be made available under a creative commons license.)
If you really want to be daring, allow digital artists or cinema students/animators to add video to their chosen twelve-bar bit of Beethoven’s 9th or the WT overture. Show the video when you play the assembled music.
And the “SW Uncut” project demonstrates that you need no control over who does this. The scenes that are being uploaded to that site are being freely chosen by people ALL OVER THE WORLD, and no one blessed off on it. Globally distributed, and uploaded freely. Without any controls at all. The whole thing was spread quite literally by word of mouth.
Now, getting the word out for something like this in the classical music world would be a challenge; SW already comes with a massive, world-wide fan base of people who are quite used to grabbing their beloved source material and messing with it with absolute entitlement. Beethoven and Rossini don’t come with that (yet). That’s why doing it with a group of students in a collaboration with other professors might be the way to go for a proof of concept; you can make people participate by assigning twelve-measure chunks to them.
And again, the idea is NOT to have one person play their tiny bit perfectly on their perfectly tuned violin followed by someone else playing the next bit perfectly on their perfectly tuned violin. The idea is to have people go hog-wild. Twelve measures hummed, then twelve measures played conventionally, then twelve measures played on a synth, then twelve measures on a kazoo, then twelve measures on a uke, then twelve measures on … Literally however people want to play it. You probably don’t want to use a huge chunk of the music or else it might get tedious.
“Beethoven Uncut.” “William Tell Uncut.” Claim your chunk, and upload your mp3!
I think we might not need to start with students, to create a proof of concept, and that in fact we’d get the most varied results by bringing in the world at large. Which, I think, would be ready to jump in the moment they heard of it.
Forget that, though. What a wonderful idea. Thanks, Janis!