Telephono: Write A Song, Pass It Around David Matysiak e-mails a simple tune to a musician, and that musician creates a new song out of it. The second musician passes it on to a third musician, who makes a new song and passes it on again. It's that old children's game telephone, transformed into a collaborative songwriting technique.
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Telephono: Write A Song, Pass It Around

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Telephono: Write A Song, Pass It Around

Telephono: Write A Song, Pass It Around

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Do you remember the game "Telephone"? You know, the one where you whisper a phrase into the ear of the person sitting next to you, say, fire engines are red, and that person tries to understand what you've said and then passes it on to the next person, and by the time it gets to the last person in the group, it could sound more like, there are bugs in my bed.

Well, David Matysiak, a musician living in Omaha, Nebraska has taken that classic children's game and given it a new twist. In his version of the game, a song is passed around instead of a whisper.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Think of it in terms of a musical chain letter. Matysiak emails a sound file of a simple tune to another musician. That person takes the file and creates his own song out of it.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: The second musician passes his new song along to a third musician who creates yet another version and so on.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: David Matysiak collects all of the versions on his Web site, David Matysiak joins us from Omaha. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DAVID MATYSIAK (Creator, Telephono): Hi, how are you?

HANSEN: I'm well. How did you come up with this project?

Mr. MATYSIAK: After touring in a rock n' roll band for about 10 years and being in a kind of situation where you're writing with the same people, collaborating with the same people, I felt like to grow as a musician and grow as an artist, I kind of needed to collaborate with other people. Especially with the way the Internet is going and everybody has recording software, it just kind of hit me that this might be something that would work out.

HANSEN: But I mean, you're a musician, why not just focus on writing your own music?

Mr. MATYSIAK: Sure. For some reason, I'm just one of those people that loves the team idea and just kind of collaborating with people. It makes me a little bit happier than kind of sitting by myself and strumming a guitar.

HANSEN: How much leeway do you give people? How much are they allowed to change the song?

Mr. MATYSIAK: They're allowed to change anything or everything or nothing at all. I've kind of been waiting for that one song to come back where I send it out and then someone passes it on exactly how they heard it, didn't touch anything. But I totally encourage people to chop up the song if they want to remix it or just add something a little bit here, a little bit there, but total freedom.

HANSEN: We want you to take us through the creative process of the song with the title, "Ain't We Superhuman." OK, you started out by coming up with a riff for this song. This is what it sounded like.

(Soundbite of guitar riff)

HANSEN: OK, what happened next?

Mr. MATYSIAK: I actually entitled that song, "There Was No Expiration Date on the Carton of Milk That Wore My Thinning Face."

(Soundbite of laughter)

You know, I just - simple repetitive jarring guitar riff, I think it goes on for maybe two minutes. It's not that much fun to listen to. So I sent to a friend of mine, Bob Nanna, who's in Chicago. He just went for it and basically created an entire piece that you'll hear right now.

(Soundbite of song "Ain't We Superhuman")

Mr. BOB NANNA: (Singing) My heart popping me apology ended, I should have let up before we began. could have to driven to the river and plunged right in. I never so been unbelievably broken...

HANSEN: Now, it sounds almost complete but it did get passed along, so what happened?

Mr. MATYSIAK: The actual file is only about 40 seconds long and almost - it's like a jingle, so to speak. So when he sent it on to a friend of his by the name of Mike Kinsella, who is also in Chicago, Mike added a little bit of color to it, so in this version, you'll hear just a really pretty intro of plucky guitar notes and he actually extended the song.

HANSEN: Let's hear that.

(Soundbite of song "We Ain't Superhuman")

Mr. NANNA: (Singing) My heart popping me apology ended, I should have let up we began.

HANSEN: All right, I can hear some of the different elements mixed in there, but that's not the end of it. What happened to the song after that?

Mr. MATYSIAK: So after that, we go to Enrico Molteni who's an artist in Italy who I've actually never met. What Enrico did was take the song as he heard it and add, kind of, just a little bit trumpet and at the very end, one of my favorite parts in the whole project, he went down to a local beach in Italy and sampled little kids playing and sounds of the waves and crashing and stuff, so you'll if you hear the very end of the song, to me, it adds the color, it makes it - it's kind of the payoff, if you will.

(Soundbite of song "Ain't We Superhuman")

HANSEN: Oh, what a nice touch to that! Is that the final version?

Mr. MATYSIAK: Right now it is. But that's the fun about this project is, you know, that song kind of get stuck in Italy somewhere. It went on to someone else. I wouldn't want to say it was a language barrier, it was just- it's just stuck right now. But it will definitely keep going and from there, there's no telling where it will go.

HANSEN: That's David Matysiak, founder of Telephono. This past week, a limited edition box set of seven-inch vinyl records of Telephono songs was released. To hear Telephono songs change as they travel from musician to musician, check out the music section of our Web site at This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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