5:58pm

Fri March 11, 2011
Music

An Inventive Work Finds Harmony In B Flat

Darren Solomon says he was fascinated to discover that you can play as many as 20 YouTube videos simultaneously.

"Usually," he says, "if you did play more than one at the same time, it would sound pretty horrible."

But not always.

"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," Solomon says.

So he tried intentionally layering them up. Solomon called out on his blog for musicians to make videos, asking that they follow rules such as staying in the key of B flat and being under two minutes long.

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.

"It should make a composition that's pretty interesting," Solomon says. "Sometimes, something comes up, and you just go, 'Man, I could not have planned that better.' "

"You can waste hours just remixing different sounds, and it's just a lovely way to watch three hours of your life go by," alternative rock singer and guitarist Keiko says. 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.

"The Kaoss Pad just lets you make random sounds if you just drag the stylus along," she says. "And it sounds very, very boring on its own, but together with all the rest of the instruments, it was another layer of coolness."

Keiko says she's never met the other musicians or composer Solomon.

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

Setting Up Rules

Of course, it will be up to you whether to add Keiko's Nintendo DS to the mix. But no matter what you do, it will sound OK. That's what Sara Roberts says she loves about the project. She's on the music faculty at the California Institute of the Arts. Solomon set up rules — the key, the length, the need for pauses — that make it possible for anyone, musical or not, to rearrange it, "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 Darren Solomon or about it being a perfect musical object," Roberts says.

Roberts says the concept behind "In B Flat" isn't new. 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 like the key or a rhythm.

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

"Because they're all in C, they all work together," Solomon says. "No matter what happens, it's always going to sound good."

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

"So, really, this in a way is sort of a tribute — my digital Web 2.0 tribute to him and that great work."

Solomon is often asked who wrote "In B Flat." His answer: You did. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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