Monday, 25 April 2011

Project Electroclassic

Image Jo Fairfax

While Taxation Law is a sorry minefield of clauses, sub-clauses, basement clauses and offshore deep shaft clauses, it essentially lacks the romance of a far more profound legal question - Who owns a work of art? The creator? The collaborator? The middle man? The consumer? Luckily, those intrepid folks at WNO///3 have taken it upon themselves to consider this question...

Project Electroclassic is a special commission by WNO///3 into the tricky world of Intellectual Property. Composer Jessica Curry, along with sonic artist Michael Fairfax, visual artist Jo Fairfax and soloists from the Orchestra of WNO have combined forces to explore the fundamental intricacies of what it is to create a new work of art, and who, if anyone, owns it.

In the course of creating a new work of musical and visual art, the yet to be officially performed Dust to Dust, the team has incorporated, among other things, a reworked two chord adagio from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.3, a response to a Charles Tomlinson poem about bees and Bach, a line from Walt Whitman's Song of Myself and video images of the soloists wearing gas masks and evening wear.

But don't take my word for it. Project Electroclassic has been documenting the creation of Dust to Dust in a blog where you can read the thoughts of the contributors as they journey along the creative path, and consider the realities of creative ownership. Click here to go to the archive page.

Not wanting to sound like the overbearing know-it-all in your life I suggest you read the entries bit by bit so you can best gain a sense of the time and space required for the creation process. But you don't only get to read; you get to hear and see the work in creation, including a new discovery for me – the graphic score. The finished project will be unveiled at the Weston Studio (WMC) on the 3rd of May, and will be filmed and uploaded to WNO///3.

In the meantime you can listen to Jessica Curry and Michael Fairfax talking about the project on last week's Music Matters by downloading the podcast of the April 16th edition (Maazel). It's available to download for a further 21 days as I type this. The interview, and subsequent discussion on IP, takes place 24 minutes into the show.

And now, dear readers, if you'll indulge my ego for a short while, here's my take on things Project Electroclassic...

One morning, while waiting for the work train, I found myself whistling a tune I had conjured the previous evening. It was a simple, if slightly melancholic, melody that helped pass the time. As usual there were four of us waiting for the train. Though we had spent countless hours together we had never spoken to each other, always waiting quietly until the train arrived and we'd take our separate seats. That day, in keeping with tradition, we didn't speak to one another, and when the train arrived I got onboard whistling my little creation.

The following morning I arrived at the station and joined my taciturn companions. Except, on this day, all three were more animated than I had seen them before. One was humming a tune that sounded familiar to my ears. Another was whistling a melody that my memory also found comfortable to be around. The third was sketching all four of us waiting for the train, surrounded by what I took to be crows. By now the humming and whistling were encircling each other, and I gradually began to realise I was hearing variations of the tune I had created.

With a slight hesitation I asked the first man what he was whistling. He replied he wasn't sure, but he thought it was from a song he'd heard on the radio. I asked the second man if he could tell me the name of the tune he was humming. He said he'd heard me whistling it the previous day and he couldn't get it out of his head. Could I tell him what it was? I told him I had made the tune up myself. As soon as I'd spoken these words the third man told me I was mistaken, but the tune was an old folk song his grandmother used to sing to him when he was a child. He showed us his drawing, pointing each of us out in turn, and then motioning with his nibbled pen towards what I could now see weren't crows, but musical notes. This, he told me, was the tune I had been whistling the previous morning. I was convinced he was mistaken, and I told him this, but he refused to be persuaded otherwise.

The train arrived and we got on board, and this time we took a table seat. I, the whistler, the hummer and the sketcher continued our discussion about the tune which I said was mine, which the whistler had heard on the radio, which the hummer had acknowledged was my creation and which the sketcher was adamant was the echo of an old folk song.

To this day we still discuss the tune on our way to work, except now the tune is the whistler’s, the sketcher has heard it on the radio, I’ve acknowledged it as the creation of the whistler, but the hummer tells us it’s an old hymn his grandfather used to sing to him as a child, and he draws a sketch of the four of us waiting for the train, the notes rising above our heads as witnesses.

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