Yo-Yo Ma and virtual collaboration

29Dec08

Yo-Yo Ma is holding a contest in conjunction with Indaba Music to “collaborate virtually” with anybody who wants to create a remix of his recording of Dona Nobis Pacem. Contestants are invited to create their own counter-melodies or variations. Whoever comes up with the best rendition will get to make music with Yo-Yo Ma in person.

“The thing that I’ve always been slightly frustrated with was that the idea of a CD is kind of confined to a material possession that you can put on a shelf. And the idea of music, for me, is always about both the communication and the sharing of content. And so the interactive part is missing.” —Yo-Yo Ma on All Things Considered, Dec. 24

Ma’s idea for virtual collaboration is a good starting point in acknowledging that CDs prevent interactivity. I don’t see the harm in that. However, I’m not sure that it provides much useful interaction or collaboration.

interaction: mutual or reciprocal action or influence   –m-w.com

The recording of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello is not reciprocating the other player’s musical actions.

Surely the contest will encourage creative thought. Hell, it looks pretty fun. But participation is limited to people with computers and a lot of spare time on their hands. What good will participation do for these people? When we create variations on Dona Nobis Pacem by ourselves on our computers to win a contest, who are we “communicating” with, and what are we telling them? Perhaps members of Indaba Music are successfully communicating with each other, but are they creating any peace?

Creating actual peace would mean communicating with those who cause unrest, who exploit and wage war, or perhaps communicating with those who are suffering because they are subject to that warfare or exploitation. Musical communication is most poignant and vital, I think, when it can unite people who wouldn’t otherwise be united and incite communal catharsis among them, and coax some understanding and change.

This contest is cool, but I think we can do even more. Maybe the winner and Yo-Yo Ma should not only make music, but bring it to people who really need to hear it.

What do you think? Is conceiving of “virtual collaboration” in this way doing any harm? What are some alternate forms of virtual collaboration?

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