Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Creating an Open Source Goldberg Variations

Image under Creative Commons
Attribution/ShareAlike license
Today's guest post is written by Robert Douglass, who enjoyed a brief but wonderful career as a hornist before following a deep passion for open source software. He remains connected to music through his wife, pianist Kimiko Ishizaka, and is the Director of the Open Goldberg Project.

In a Nutshell:

The Open Goldberg Variations project is creating a new score and a new studio recording of Bach’s masterpiece. Both the score and the recording will be given to the public domain (free free free!) A Kickstarter project is running to raise funds for the project.

The Details:

The problem with Bach is that his music isn't free enough. Although the Goldberg Variations have been published for over 270 years, scores and recordings that are free are hard to find.

The Open Goldberg Project aims to solve this problem, at least in the case of the Goldberg Variations, while exploring the exciting intersection between open source software, the public domain, crowd sourced funding, and emergent web technologies for music. The primary goal of the project is to create a new edition of the score of the Goldbergs, as well as a new studio recording, played by award winning pianist Kimiko Ishizaka. Both the score and the recording will use the Creative Commons Zero tool to place them into the public domain, assuring that they'll both be free (gratis and libre) forevermore.

The whole effort is being financed by a currently running campaign which turns to crowd sourcing to provide the funding. When a supporter pledges $25, for example, they will receive a CD or a printed score of the work when it's finished. Pledge levels span a range, including a $300 level that lets the donor write a dedication for one of the 30 variations; the dedication will then appear in all digital and printed forms of the score and recording.

The score will be created with MuseScore, an awesome open source notation software program (itself free, both gratis and libre). The team behind (the open source project) and (the newly founded company which supports the project) is using the Open Goldberg Project to demonstrate the power and flexibility of their notation software. By releasing the first ever "open source edition" of the Goldbergs, they hope to turn more people on to the power of MuseScore, thus bolstering the project while bringing Bach's notes to a wider audience. Since the document format of MuseScore scores is MusicXML - an XML variant suitable for describing music notation - the music will truly be open source when completed.

Once both score and recording are produced, has some neat technological tricks up its sleeve. They're pioneering new ways to embed music notation into websites, and then synchronize the scores with other media, such as YouTube videos. Since the new Goldberg Variations score and recording will be devoid of usage restrictions, they will hopefully be the raw clay for many derivative artistic works and mashups.

The Creative Commons Zero tool will be used to remove all copyright and usage rights from the works. This will make them suitable for distribution by sites like IMSLP which can be seen as the Wikipedia of scores and recordings. Overall, the goal of the Open Goldberg Variations is to bring the music of Bach to as wide of an audience as possible.

In all, the convergence of open source, cutting edge web technologies, and fund raising tools such as Kickstarter is opening up a vast new range of possibilities for artists such as Ishizaka. It's exciting to see music and open source cross pollinating each other and generating mutual goodwill.

Best of luck to Robert and the Open Goldberg Project! Check back here in the next few weeks to see how the Kickstarter initiative is progressing. If you're interested in backing this project, you can do so at the OGP's Kickstarter page.

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