Cover Story - Jason Freeman brings punk rock's boundary-busting ideas to classical music

One of the animating forces behind the early punk scenes in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., was the fact that many of the musicians made almost no distinction between themselves and their audiences. In those DIY days, the musicians were on stage not because they were doing something you couldn't do, but precisely because they were doing something you could — and often did — do.

Jason Freeman is a punk for geeks. With his conservative haircut and advanced degrees in composition, he's bringing many of the same boundary-busting ideas to classical music that punk musicians brought to rock. For Freeman, there's no reason regular folks shouldn't be able to participate in making "art music," and his music projects over the last decade have been devoted to figuring out ways to do exactly that.

Freeman's an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Music and he uses technology to sweep away the boundaries between composers and audiences. One of his most widely known projects to date is "Piano Etudes," music for piano enabled by the Web's open-ended community of tinkerers. "Piano Etudes," commissioned by pianist Jenny Lin, consists of a series of musical fragments that can be rearranged on the fly by the performer. But anyone can have a hand in the mix by going to the accompanying website and clicking on the various music fragments to create new compositions. Some visitor-created pieces have even been selected and performed in concert.

"It's a utopian, idealist sort of thing," Freeman admits, referring to his vision that his interactive projects can give people a glimpse of what's it's like to compose music.

"Urban Remix," his 2010 Beltline collaboration with Michael Nitsche and Carl DiSalvo, attacks the problem another way by inviting Beltline visitors to record environmental sounds using an iPhone app and then remixing them into a soundscape of car horns, dog barks and bicycle bells that's, if not music, at least musical.

This fall, Freeman is developing "LOLC," a laptop orchestra project with Tech student Akito Van Troyer. In "LOLC" musicians improvise music by writing code live on stage. "It's super geeky," says Freeman. They've already shown an early version of the project at Princeton and at the Listening Machines showcase at Eyedrum. And in future performances, the digital environment will be expanded to include acoustic musicians as well.

Freeman also performs regularly with Sonic Generator, Georgia Tech's contemporary music ensemble-in-residence founded by Jessica Peek Sherwood and Tom Sherwood. This season kicks off with concerts in October and November. Amid the group's woodwinds and strings, Freeman plays with electronic toys as the designated tech guy.

It's the perfect gig for him. As with his other projects, for Sonic Generator he creates all sorts of spacey sounds that update the chamber orchestra for the 21st century.

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