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Ottmar Liebert

Open Culture

Photo © Greg Gorman / Santa Fe

Ottmar Liebert composes, performs and records music in a Nouveau Flamenco style, which mixes elements of flamenco with jazz, bossa nova, and other genres. Seven of his albums have gone platinum and two other albums gold; he has also been nominated for a Grammy.

At Ottmar’s and the Lunanerga site you can both buy CDs and merchandise and, via the Listening Lounge, enjoy music licensed under the Creative Commons Sampling Plus license. The Listening Lounge offers tracks as well as loops and parts. Musicians Jon Gagan, t-one, Canton and Steve Stephen also offer their music via the Listening Lounge.

Creative Commons (“CC”): When did you start recording and performing music? How did you first hear about Creative Commons?

Ottmar Liebert (“OL”): I have been playing guitar since I was eleven years old. I arrived in the USA in May of 1979 and starting out as a dishwasher. I have also worked as a bank teller and a bike messenger. I played in a rockband in Boston for several years. In 1986 I moved to Santa Fe and started playing classical guitar in restaurants. I took Flamenco lessons and recorded “Nouveau Flamenco” in 1989. That album was released in 1990 by Higher Octave Music and sold over 2 million copies. After recording three albums for Higher Octave I signed with Epic Records and stayed with them from 1991 through 2001. I first discovered Creative Commons a couple of years ago by following a link to Professor Lessig’s site.

CC: What attracted you to the idea of Creative Commons?

OL: When I was a teenager, copyright lasted 50 years; now it lasts for much longer. In a time where the wheel turns much faster, we should not extend copyrights. Nowadays corporations are allowed to copyright ideas, mere notions of technology that doesn’t even exist yet. Why would anybody want to invent something that some corporation has already claimed in theory. We are building fences around land we haven’t even approached yet….

I feel that artists create not only in order to experience the process of creation itself, but also for the ripples. I find that the act of creating is like throwing a pebble into a still lake to watch the ripples. Being able to share my work via a CC license enables me to experience more ripples. Sometimes the ripples can inspire more work in me.

Besides using a CC license for my music I also use it for my photos on Flickr as well as for my online journal.

CC: Why did you choose the Sampling Plus license for your music?

OL: Musicians sample one another one way or another. Whether actual samples are used or a cool sound, riff or feel is actually re-created. Might as well officially allow it and even encourage it (see also my answer to the last questions and the concept of ripples)

I am genuinely interested in hearing what other musicians might do with some of my work. In the past I have commissioned people to remix some of my work—this is going a step further.

As a musician I want to take part in the larger cultural landscape, want to see my ideas noted, accepted, reflected, used or otherwise messed with. I want to be swimming in the river of culture, to partake of that larger experience. The Sampling Plus license lets other people know that I am open to that engagement, that exchange.

I read a book by the Japanese Zen Master Uchiyama called “Opening the Hand of Thought.” Using a Sampling Plus license does that for me.

CC: At the Listening Lounge, you offer loops and parts of your tracks, in addition to the completed track. What was the reasoning behind this?

OL: I am not just allowing people to sample the music, I am enabling them to do it by offering isolated tracks. More ripples. And it is theoretically potential business because I can sell the same piece of music as a stereo mix as well as in the form of isolated tracks.

CC: What has been the reaction of fans and visitors to the Listening Lounge?

OL: I feel that introducing people to the Listening Lounge and downloading in general is a process that will take some time. That process is partly one of education. For example, fans have expressed that they prefer to buy the “original” rather than a download and I have to explain that CDs are not original at all. They are no less copies than a download would be. In fact downloading is much more direct than buying a CD in a store.

I think some fans are realizing the advantages of the Listening Lounge. I started a new download-only album of solo-guitar improvisations called “Tears in the Rain.” The pieces are uploaded as they are recorded, rather than waiting for a complete album or manufacturing a CD. A PDF for the album is also available for download with drawings and some writing. At first fans asked for a complete CD release, but soon they discovered how exciting it is to hear music as it is created, since I usually upload the “Tears in the Rain” pieces within a few hours of creating them.

One interesting reaction came from Mark Hamilton’s blog “Notes from a Teacher” who says of the Listening Lounge:

“This really is an amazing site, and obviously the product of someone who has thought long and hard about distributing music in a way that gives fans a range of choices and an enjoyable experience. In short, it treats those who visit as music lovers, not consumers.”

Posted 14 November 2005