Open Music Archive

Open Music Archive's contribution to Nought to Sixty

Appropriation and re-interpretation have been central strategies in music production across the genres, from blues and jazz to folk and hip-hop. And while the rapid development of online peer-to-peer file sharing networks has provided millions with new ways to access musical material, this technology has also had direct consequences on music making, and has often led musicians and DJs into problematic legal territory. Open Music Archive, initiated by artists Eileen Simpson (born Manchester, 1977, lives in London) and Ben White (born Manchester, 1977, lives in London), employs such strategies of appropriation, but uses music that has entered into the public domain. It functions as a platform for musical exchange, exploring the possibilities of collaborative creation.

Open Music Archive digitises out-of-copyright recordings – mainly 1920s and 30s blues, jazz, folk and music hall – and distributes the tracks via its website. It also stages live events, and produces and distributes CDs. Most recently it created a 'battle record', a vinyl compilation of samples, loops and sound effects for use by DJs (created for Discloures, Gasworks, London, 2008). For Clips, Blips & Loops (2007), meanwhile, Open Music Archive recorded out-of-copyright music from a public collection of music boxes in Stockholm, and invited members of the Swedish collective Fylkingen to rework the recordings. The result was a performance and a free 'copyleft' licensed CD (a copyright-free recording, which also requires all subsequent modifications of the original material to be free). The recorded tracks – combining anachronistic tinkles with the abrupt cuts of breakbeat – are also available for free unlimited download. For such projects musicians are encouraged to release their material under a Creative Commons license, allowing others to use the music freely – a request which has at times sparked debates among the collaborators.

The focus on the production of usable source material is perhaps what sets Open Music Archive apart from other artist-led enterprises that redistribute historical material (such as the American collective Continuous Project). Each project is potentially only the first step in a long chain of reworking, sampling and looping that could reach far beyond the limits of the archive. Applying the principles of peer-based collaboration to wider fields of creative production, Open Music Archive is situated in the debate around Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). It promotes an alternative form of creative economy and attempts to challenge the conventional mechanisms of music authorship, ownership, production and distribution.

For Nought to Sixty, Open Music Archive presents Free-to- Air, a project started in 2007 at Cornerhouse in Manchester. Free-to-Air involved an invitation to musicians and DJs to produce cover versions of material drawn from the archive. This process, putting long-forgotten lyrics and rhythms at the centre of contemporary creation, is renewed at the ICA, where a range of musicians will perform new cover versions in short sets during a night of performances. The evening also marks the launch of a the Free-to-Air CD – gathering together a selection of the cover versions created for the project – which will be distributed in exchange for a donation.

Coline Milliard

The Open Music Archive's Free to Air CD is available to buy.