Free as in Bach: Open Goldberg Variations released

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The Kickstarter funded collaboration between Kimiko Ishizaka and MuseScore has released their new recording and score of Bach's Goldberg Variations into the public domain using the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licensing tool. This is just one of the ways in which Kickstarter, which has pumped over $36,000,000 USD into the music industry since its inception, is revolutionizing the business of music. first reported on the project in April, 2011, during the fundraising phase.

The recording has been well received, getting over 300,000 plays and 70,000 downloads from the project's sites alone in the first two weeks. Since the recording is freely licensed it is springing up on important sites across the web, such as IMSLP, the Free Music Archive, the Internet Archive, Musopen, and even on the Goldberg Variations article of Wikipedia. There is also a free iPad app which combines the recording and the score into a full audio-visual experience.

Fans describe the playing as "delicate in places, yet full of depth and expression", and having a "restrained exuberance, rippling and sparkling like a brook in the midday sun" (see more reviews).

The new digital score of the work is in the open MuseScore format, and can be easily converted into related formats such as MusicXML. Electronic scores in open formats will be a game changer for music notation on the internet. For publishers, it means having a fast turn around on improvements. MuseScore already reacted to constructive criticism from notation experts and are releasing incremental improvements as they come. In addition, digital scores promote the mash-up culture by making the score embeddable into the browser, or allowing the coupling to videos.

The MuseScore team is also partnering with SampleSumo to create an exciting score following technology that adds a new dimension to the audience experience. This was demonstrated with the Open Goldberg Variations at the recent Classical:NEXT conference in Munich, Germany. Kimiko Ishizaka played a selection from the Goldberg Variations while audience members followed along with the score on their laptops, smart phones, or tablets (watch the video). Score following will be taken to a whole new level on June 24th when Wisconsin Public Radio broadcasts the entire 83 minute Goldberg Variations recording while inviting their radio audience to follow the score online. The technology will synchronize the users' browsers with the actual radio broadcast, showing them the measure being played in the moment they are hearing it.

As exciting as this single project may be, the fact still remains that notated music has been a forsaken medium online. The true revolution for notated music on the Internet is still coming. Written music shares virtually none of the advantages that texts and images have. Texts and images are shared so effectively because they have open standards and technical agreements that are adhered to by everybody who writes compatible software. Conversely, music notation (itself an open format) does not have a widely adapted technical standard that works in the same way.

One can barely use a search engine to discover a decent score of Beethoven’s fifth piano sonata, or to find out how long the second movement is – and even when a score is discovered; why can't I copy and paste a few measures of the score onto Facebook? Heck, I can't even tell my browser to play an F#, or a C-Major chord. These limitations seem odd in the day and age when our browsers can natively do 3D model rendering.

Hopefully, the Open Goldberg Variations will inspire more musicians and technologists to push these barriers away, turn to fans and supporters for funding, and help to build the infrastructure and resources needed for us to modernize the experience of written music on the internet.

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I'm a Drupal + PaaS specialist with a music background.


While I'm glad is working on the problem of sharing sheet music, I'd really have preferred a more loose coupling between the "find music" and "show music" sides so I don't have to embed 3rd-party Javascript if I want to post my own sheet music.

Maybe something like VexFlow which takes an ASCII music notation and renders it to a canvas element as sheet music using Javascript you host yourself.

It sure is coming closer, but until then we'll have to do it with images+js.

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