An Inventive Work Finds Harmony In B Flat Composer and musician Darren Solomon has created an interactive musical work designed for anyone to play. It's called "In B Flat," and it uses instruments ranging from a piano to a Nintendo DS. It was inspired by classical music experiments of the 1960s.
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An Inventive Work Finds Harmony In B Flat

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An Inventive Work Finds Harmony In B Flat

An Inventive Work Finds Harmony In B Flat

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If good cooking is all about improvisation and creativity, so too is good music. And how about doing some improvisation right at your computer? A YouTube video project can turn you into a musical improv, even if you don't play an instrument.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL: Darren Solomon was fascinated to discover that you can put as many as 20 YouTube videos on one page and play them at once.

Mr. DARREN SOLOMON (Composer): Usually, if you did play more than one at the same time, it would sound pretty horrible.

SYDELL: But not always.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SOLOMON: I noticed that if they're in the same key, or had complementary elements, a lot of times you could get something kind of cool.

(Soundbite of music)

SYDELL: So Solomon wanted to try intentionally layering them up. He called out on his blog for musicians to make videos. They had to follow rules such as staying in the key of B flat and being under two minutes. He calls the result "In B Flat." It's 20 different videos on one page, each one a different instrument. You can start any instrument at any time, and it always comes out right.

I brought up the clarinet, the trumpet, then the guitar...

(Soundbite of guitar)

SYDELL: ...and then the piano.

(Soundbite of guitar and piano)

Mr. SOLOMON: It should make a composition thats pretty interesting. You know, you get sometimes, something comes up, and you just go, man, I could not have planned that better.

(Soundbite of music)

KEIKO (Rock singer; Guitarist): You can waste hours just remixing different sounds, and it's just a lovely way to watch three hours of your life go by.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SYDELL: Keiko is normally an alternative rock singer and guitarist. But for "In B Flat," she played her Nintendo DS. The DS has a music program and a special-effects processor called a Kaoss Pad that let her make all kinds of sounds in the key of B flat.

KEIKO: The Kaoss Pad lets you just make random sounds if you just drag the stylus along.

(Soundbite of musical sounds)

KEIKO: And it sounds very, very boring on its own, but together with all the rest of the instruments, it was another layer of coolness.

(Soundbite of music)

SYDELL: Keiko has never met the other musicians or composer Darren Solomon.

Mr. SOLOMON: I don't know if she's a great musician or not, but it's so neat to have sort of that going along with an incredible trumpet player, which normally would not be, you know, in the same room or thought of in the same band.

(Soundbite of music)

SYDELL: Of course, it will be up to you whether to add Keiko's Nintendo to the mix. But no matter what you do, it will sound OK.

That's what Sara Roberts loves about the project. She's on the music faculty at the California Institute of the Arts or CalArts. Solomon set up rules - the key, the length, the need for pauses - that make it possible for anyone, musical or not, to rearrange it.

Ms. SARA ROBERTS (Composition and Experimental Sound Practices, California Institute of the Arts): And make it be about what the listener is going to put together and what the listener is going to play with, rather than be about, you know, Darren Solomon or about it being a perfect musical object.

SYDELL: The concept isn't really new, says Roberts. Back in the 1960s, classical composers were experimenting with new forms that made it easier for anyone to participate in making music. Minimalist composer Terry Riley wrote a piece called "In C." Like Solomon, Riley set up rules for the key and the rhythm.

(Soundbite of song, "In C")

SYDELL: "In C" was an inspiration for Solomon, because it was so simple, anyone could join.

Mr. SOLOMON: Because they're all in C, they all work together. No matter what happens, it's always going be its always going to sound good.

(Soundbite of music)

SYDELL: Solomon says what Riley didn't have to make his music truly democratic and participatory was the Internet.

Mr. SOLOMON: So, really, this in a way is sort of a tribute - my digital Web 2.0 tribute to him and that great work.

SYDELL: Solomon is often asked who wrote "In B Flat." His answer: You did.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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