Bach for Everyone: Kimiko Ishizaka Records the Goldberg Variations

GermanyGermany Bach for Everyone: Kimiko Ishizaka Records the Goldberg Variations

The Open Goldberg Variation Project started as the idea of Robert Douglass, a musician interested in the nexus between music and the Internet, and came to fruition with the performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations by his wife, Kimiko Ishizaka (click here). Resources included the Kickstarter funding site, the MuseScore open source music editor, SoundCloud music embedding/sharing site and Bösendorfer Pianos.

This alliance of Internet and musical sources had the end goal of making available to the public a re-edited score of the Goldberg Variations ;and a royalty-free performance rendered in an equally free downloadable application for the iPad that allows the score to be visually followed. To state it more simply, it is a modern-day equivalent of the bouncing ball cartoons; the difference here is that the highlight is moving through the musical score and not the lyrics. The excellent performance by Kimiko Ishizaka as well as the score are available for free download as MP3 (320KB), WAV 24b/44K, and Flac 96b/44K files.

The financial backing for this project started with the “crowdfunded” Kickstarter, a profit-free funding organization where a project such as the OGP can set a monetary goal with a time limit of up to sixty days for donors to contribute towards reaching the desired amount. If the goal is reached, the donated funds are released to the project at the end of the campaign. If not, the pledges are rescinded. The OGP achieved its $15,000 in twenty days, and after sixty had 400 backers submitting $24,000. Additional funding was provided by Bösendorfer, who was interested in providing a showpiece for their grand piano Model 290.

The software used to provide the score and the tracking algorithms is the open-source musical notation software, MuseScore. It is the public domain version of the Sibelius package. A comparison between the two musical notation software packages reveals that even in its first version MuseScore stands up very well to the commercial competitor with, of course, the biggest advantage of all: it’s free. One of the features of MuseScore is its ability to “read” the notes and highlight them as they are played. The source could be a digital file or a live performance. As can be seen here, the bouncing ball is a moving rectangular salmon-colored bar:

MuseScore is in the process of setting up a method to allow it to be embedded in Web pages as you would an MP3 file or YouTube video.

Both the revised score and the performed variations were uploaded to MuseScore to be available for “crowdsourcing.” Often the comments were just opinions, but errors in both the score and the performance were caught. In a similar manner, another web site, SoundCloud, was used both as a source of comment and, with its ability to be embedded in any web page, as a vehicle to spreading the music project “virally.” Although we are not talking number of views, downloads or “listens” on the level of YouTube, you can see below by the numbers to the right of the title that there have been tens of thousands of hits through MuseScore. In a five-day period at the end of May and early June, Kimiko Ishizaka’s performance had been downloaded over 60,000 times: perhaps not viral but amazing numbers for any classical music site.

Bösendorfer Pianos found this non-profit project of interest, and provided their top-of-the-line Model 290 piano as well as studio support. As with all the technology described here, even the piano is state-of-the-art. Its proprietary digital recording CEUS system allows the piano itself to transcribe the pianist’s exact velocity of attack, duration and sound. This came in handy when Ishizaka was recording in the (nearly) soundproof Teldex Studio in Berlin. A building-rattling construction blast ruined the variation she had been recording, but the session was saved by the piano which only registered the sounds from the keyboard.

With this project behind them, another well-supported Kickstart fund drive has been completed to finance a concert tour with Ms. Ishizaka performing what will be her next MuseScore recording, Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I.

Her concert schedule takes her to the following venues:

September 16, 2012 Kerrytown Concert House, Ann Arbor, MI
September 20, 2012 WMP Concert Hall, New York, NY
September 22, 2012 Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, MA
September 23, 2012 Glenn Gould Foundation, Toronto, Canada
October 20, 2012 Bösendorfer Saal, Mozarthaus, Vienna, Austria
December 28, 2012. Benrather Schloß, Düsseldorf, Germany
January 30, 2013 1901 Arts Club, London

Stan Metzger