Bernhard Ullrich and I were hanging out just playing together and out of the blue one of us asked “What would the stupidest thing we could do as musicians?” We both answered at the same time “Let’s start up a Big Band” and so we did. This was in late 2010, Bernhard came up with the name Open Source Orchestra but had no idea what that might mean because he isn’t a computer geek. I am a computer geek and had to really think about it the connection. Being a closet pirate (political party) and interested in reexamining copyright as it pertains to music biz, the name just meant something right away – resonance they call it. It wasn’t until we started playing regularly that the deeper meaning became clearer, that the resonance was more wide spread among players. Musicians need to make music. It was always so and continues to be so in this modern and restrictive world.
Also, it is a shit-load of work to put together a band every month and neither of us could have done it alone. We have differing strengths and weaknesses, Bernhard being more of a people person and myself being good with photographic/promotional and technical/recording stuff. We both like energetic music but I tend towards more emotional and sensitive material. We both tend to be pretty silly on stage, doing saxophone battles while standing on our chairs, wandering through the audience soloing or (mock) firing of musicians between songs. After all it has to be fun for us too. Think of it as the “Buddy Rich Buss Tapes” without the bad vibes.
The OSO has two components that define it. One is clear leadership that insists that everyone involved can have fun, meaning that both musicians and audience are seen as equal participants. The other component is that the group is made up of available players from a larger source of players who love to play together and have a huge respect for one another.
For the last year and a half we had played every first Sunday of the month in the Schlot for the door. What little came in went to the 17 or so musicians to pay for bvg and a coffee. The OSO has been a “Non Profit” labour of love. I suppose the point of these concerts was to show that music and it’s enjoyment, first and foremost, is a shared cultural event. For us it was a way of paying the soul. We (Bernhard & I) want to put music above all but today we, (society), seem to have surrounded music with so many agencies, laws, regulations, people who must be paid first etc. that it is no longer possible to just go out and play in public anymore. It’s all so complicated and expensive now.
I have recorded pretty much every concert and made all of the mastered recordings available to the musicians, open and free of course.
The OSO is an interesting project where soloists are encouraged to form, add to or change the music. Leadership is as much about listening to and giving space to the players and soloists as it is providing musical security by nailing down or making really clear the time and groove elements of the pieces. OSO is about taking care of the details so that the players can feel both secure and free at the same time.
The OSO isn’t about big band cliché. Mindless repetition and dredging up a thin appearance of the past is the “Naked Horror” for me. It has got to be fresh, even if the music was written in the 1950’s or ’60’s. You keep something fresh by being Open to now and letting the musicians and audience who benefit from the music be the Source of its inspiration. Both Open and Source as defined above are uninteresting to the mainstream of publishers and sellers of music because this experience of music can only be “owned” at the time of creation by those who actually create the musical experience. This isn’t to say that we aren’t interested in bringing the OSO to festivals. The OSO travels well. A good time is infectious.