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Obsessive Currents is a work for solo violin with electroacoustic processing and accompaniment. Commissioned by the Intellectual Property Institute of Slovenia, to honor the ocassion of the Creative Commons License Launch in the country of Slovenia.
For centuries and from J.S. Bach to Miles Davis to Radiohead, musicians have created new compositions using materials—melody, harmony, rhythms, etc.—from pre-existing works. In classical music, for instance, there is a long record of composers who incorporated folk songs of their day into instrumental pieces, and a long record of composers who wrote sets of variations on melodies created by others.
The inclusion of existing materials into a music composition can happen for several reasons. The composer may be inspired by the existing music and may wish to extend it or place it in a new or more contemporary context. The composer may wish to make a commentary on the original piece and/or its composer and time and place of origin. The composer may wish to parody the original to make a social or political statement. The composer may wish to juxtapose the existing music with other musical materials for either purely formal or conceptual reasons, creating a collage of sound and/or ideas.
Today, encouraged by the development of digital media, this longstanding practice of placing existing musical materials into new works is very widely used, easily exemplified by the use of sampling in pop music such as hip-hop but also common in other, more experimental, music. However, the practice is also under extreme legal threat, primarily because of copyright laws. Fortunately, the rise of concepts such as the Creative Commons licenses shows that rather than deferring to the currently dominant restrictions, today’s creators and legal minds are devising new ways for music to be legally distributed and shared worldwide.
Obsessive Currents is a work explicitly incorporates musical materials from Eugene Ysaÿe’s Violin Sonata Number Two, a work now in the public domain and which itself quoted materials both from J.S. Bach and Gregorian chant. In addition, the computer part of Obsessive Currents uses manipulations of audio acquired from Open Source Audio and the Freesound Project, two online collaborative databases of Creative Commons licensed sounds. By the composer’s intention and because of its use of “some rights reserved” materials, Obsessive Currents also is licensed under Creative Commons (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5).
Obsessive Currents was created by taking all pieces of source material, including both the Ysaÿe score and audio files, and distorting them using computer algorithms. Distorted materials were then run through further algorithms (sometimes the same ones, sometimes not) again and again, creating layers of materials derived from the originals but increasingly unlike them. Knowing that some of the computer sounds would also be passed to a DJ at the Creative Commons Launch event, I attempted to use algorithms that I felt were similar literally or conceptually to DJ actions: distorting speed, changing direction, creating rhythms, crossing from one item to another, “mixing” two items together, and etc. The result is a tumultuous sonic spin through a variety of moods and sonic colors.
If you would like to know more about the methods used to compose this piece, please email Doug Geers.
Special thanks to Maja Bogataj Jančič for her vision, creativity, and energy to bring Creative Commons to Slovenia,
and for inviting violinist Maja Cerar and me to be a part of this wonderful Creative Commons launch event.