Bang on a Can's Found Sound Nation

Article Contributed by Rock Paper Scissors | Published on Sunday, September 24, 2017

Art is always about reinvention, about taking the elements of the past and reimagining them. In today’s vast network of ideas, sounds, and media, the way new life and energy comes to older artistic forms is in flux--and in the hands of young artists worldwide.

OneBeat, a public-private cultural diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Bang on a Can’s Found Sound Nation, is bringing together 25 young and adventurous musicians from 17 countries September 20 to October 23, 2017 to explore how the arts can renew and restore perspectives, spaces, and societies. OneBeat takes inspiration from its residency and performance partners, from Caldera in Central Oregon to the Music District of Fort Collins, Colorado.

This year’s fellows include South African vocalist Nonku PhiriAisaana Omorova, a komuz (traditional three-stringed strummed instrument) player from Kyrgyzstan; Chicago-based producer Elijah Jamal; and Belorussian producer and singer Natalia Kuznetskaya.

The program kicks off with an in-depth two and half week residency at the Caldera Arts Center in central Oregon to encourage fellows to create musical events for specific spaces, sites and communities on the road that go beyond the typical concert tour. The events could be performance-, workshop- and/or installation-based, but they will all embody the spirit of creative collaboration and of music as social practice. It continues with stops in Idaho (in partnership with Treefort Music Fest and the City of Boise), Wyoming (in partnership with Jackson’s KHOL radio), and Colorado, concluding in a series of special events coordinated with Ft. Collins’ bustling local scene.

“This project, and ones like it, are part of the zeitgeist of cultural connections - egalitarian, peer-driven exchanges that forge new musical genres, and allow for new socially engaged artistic practice that serves both cross-cultural understanding and the health of local communities,” explains Jeremy Thal of Found Sound Nation/OneBeat. “OneBeat is an incredible mechanism for the proliferation of deep listening, the contagion of funky rhythm. It’s a rare international space where there is no competition, no graduation ceremony, no negotiation of territory — but rather an open forum for the bright light of the human creative consciousness to shine through one another.”

OneBeat uses person-to-person interaction, improvisation, and collaboration to encourage and refresh international ties between Americans, American artists, and creative minds from all over. It’s a grassroots way to build a different kind of diplomatic dialogue that deepens trust, builds networks,  and creates opportunities that promote entrepreneurship and creative leaders.

“There is so much talk fueled by fear and anger these days, delivered incessantly through our phones, laptops, televisions. It’s imperative to counter these narratives, and to me that means interacting with people face to face, trying our best to connect in deeply honest, sometimes challenging ways,” says Found Sound Nation’s Elena Moon Park. “The process of collaboratively creating original music and art does this — it necessitates dialogue and compromise, listening and sharing, vulnerability and humility.”

The arts create opportunities and can also build community resources, boosting economic activity and the social environment. OneBeat will offer fellows tools to address this side of art-making, by holding business and development masterclasses with experts from industry-leading services like Apple Music and Kickstarter.

Since its inaugural year in 2012, OneBeat has invited 140 musicians from 41 countries and territories to the U.S., visited 26 U.S. communities in 14 states, produced 75 free and low-cost public performances for more than 25,000 people in the United States, and collaborated with over 5,500 students, teachers, and leaders in U.S. schools and community organizations.

“Only by listening and sharing the stories of real humans can we grow as individuals and as a society. Bringing together voices from around the globe to express themselves creatively is a means of celebrating human potential and of voicing human struggle and joy,” muses Park. “Such celebration, the kind we try to foster via OneBeat, is urgently needed right now, to break through the noise of divisiveness and fear.”