Experimental Classical Music Exists in a World of Art: My Conversation with Ian Fiedorek, composer of Fallout Symphony

Ian Fiedorek Experimentation with classical music quietly lingers around the New York City music scene. Singer songwriter Ian Fiedorek, and the composer the project Fallout Symphony states the following about experimental culture and instrumental music in the city, “I don’t think too many people are thinking in terms of the classical structure, the four-movement structure … but there’s an incredible wealth of experimentation happening in New York generally. By nature, categorizing or pigeonholing this music can be difficult, as it should be.”

Ian recently completed the shooting of a music video for Fallout Symphony’s second movement “Jim Crow”, with the help of film directors Nasa Hadizadeh and Robert Dume of Cultured Productions. This fashion-charged short film which captures the avant-garde beauty of the song. The themes of paranoia and overcoming bigotry addressed in the lyrics – “I’m your guardian angel now, tearing this all down to timeless/ There’s an ancient bigotry that’s always set in drunken stone/ I will stop their hateful words tonight” – are emotionally conveyed in the music and video.

Watching this beautiful video, I could not help but raise the following question – why experiment with images that, while aesthetically pleasing to the eye, do not capture the historical aspect of the song’s title?

Ian answers my questions and also talks to me about this experimentation, and touches on the following for this type of musical among today’s listeners. It is my pleasure to welcome Ian to a full-length interview feature for the month of December, right here on Music Historian’s Hear, Let’s Listen.

Musical Background

Ian began studying classical piano at 7 years old and grew up a pop/rock aficionado. He appreciated classical music for its long-form structures and physical challenges, two attributes that attracted him intellectually. As a mode of expression, he states “nothing was as viscerally impacting as picking up a guitar at age 13 and writing songs. Fallout Symphony is something of an amalgam of these two components of my musical upbringing.”

After studying music at NYU and Cal State Los Angeles, Ian entered the NYC music scene as a guitarist for Harlem Shakes. Then, in 2012, he continued as a solo artist. Ian does not see these life events as transitions, but as “lateral movements between projects.” He explains: “Studying music was beneficial, but it was mostly an excuse to devote my time to making music. Performing in Harlem Shakes and other bands while working on my own material is all part of an intuitive progression in my view. I never thought in terms of ‘going solo,’ I always viewed myself as a singer, songwriter and composer who dabbled in a couple of different projects on the side.”

Harlem Shakes and Fallout Symphony differ immensely from a musical perspective. One is an indie rock band that is very performance-centric, mobile and public. The other is a 30-piece orchestra that is restricted to recording music in a studio, Ian spends hours after rehearsal mixing and editing.

Fallout Symphony is a far more insular experience than Harlem Shakes or other bands I’ve been in – there’s a moment in the timeline of production where it’s very collaborative, but generally, it’s you alone in a studio putting together the most detailed and thorough score possible, then later, the clearest final mix.”

Fallout Symphony

Creating a band is easy, and many of them emerge spontaneously in NYC. One might agree that the cultural scene in large urban and cosmopolitan areas are often saturated with the typical pop-rock band, the guitarist, drummer, bassist, a keyboardist, and a lead singer. Very rarely do we hear about symphonic groups emerging on the popular music scene. When I asked Ian about what classical musicians are doing on today’s musical scene, he responded, “I haven’t met many artists experimenting in this particular way [the classical structure].”

Ian describes Fallout Symphony as an ambitious, kaleidoscopic effort, and bold musical vision; one which mixes symphonic elements with vocals and a lengthy lyric sheet – something unusual in classically influenced music. I asked Ian about his greatest influences:

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was an influence on me – his use of non-linear musical cues and motifs was a large reason I structured Fallout Symphony to be through-composed, in many ways quite unstructured. Only a few of my motifs loop around and appear again. Mainly, the entire 40-minute duration is all new sections. I relied on the lyrics to be the glue of continuity, helping the piece cohere.”

The song and video for “Jim Crow” Ian Fiedorek in his music video for "Jim Crow"

As I thought about what Ian meant by continuity, I recalled how the lyrics “Now I know I dress like Jim Crow,” sung after “I am your guardian angel now…” contrasted each other. I wondered whether Ian did this on purpose.

“The lyric is,” Ian explains, “’Now I know why you dress like Jim Crow’ – as in, you are in ‘tattered rags.’ They have brought you to a breaking point, you are a non-entity to ‘them’… These lyrics are all of a piece I would say, or at least are intended to be so. It is about overcoming the bigotry, whether tangible or ethereal, foisted upon the “you” character in the story.”

According to Ian, if we had to identify the “you” character of the story in “Jim Crow” by watching the music video, “you” would come in the form of a tall and brunette young woman with deep set eyes. One moment, she gracefully models the most beautiful 1930’s inspired clothing, the next moment curled up in the corners of a dark room appearing frightened and confused or reaching out to touch an invisible figure.

When the video’s main character is dressed in her glamorous garb, she is often sitting down on a couch in a foyer with a piano. At this piano sits Ian, playing. In other shots, he stands behind the young woman. Both characters in the video have their own inner story stirring simultaneously. This is visually represented during the first two minutes and 30 seconds of the song in which two different coherent musical ideas are played at the same time. Although these two characters visually appear together in certain scenes, they never interact with one another, at any time within the video.

Screen shot of the music video for Fallout Symphony's second movement "Jim Crow"“Certainly, having the two characters never interact was intentional – authorial intent perhaps is not particularly germane – but I believe the male character,” who is Ian, “is something of a figment, a specter, in her [the main character’s] troubled mind.”

Then, there is the main theme of the music, a theme that talks about the inescapable oppression cast by society. In this case, Jim Crow is relevant to this theme; but I did not feel the music video reflected this theme at all. I inquired about the artistic inspiration and the intention.

“We did not want the video to be too ‘on-the-nose,’” explains Ian. “We felt, instead of literally translating a narrative of overcoming bigotry, it would be more effective to let the lyrics do that heavy lifting, and instead create a more general narrative for the video about conquering one’s own ailments and mental spooks.”

The video for “Jim Crow” was shot in one day, on a budget that Ian describes, was lower than what the final product presents. He credits co-directors Nasa and Robert for “wringing the sponge of all its possibilities.” In addition, Ian believes the video “came to fruition in the way any good piece of art does – with some really good planning and some very happy accidents.”

Ian asserts, “I believe the video as an entertaining piece of work in its own right, complements and contextualizing the music to be heard from new angles, with heretofore undiscovered wrinkles.”

The audience looking for this musical and visual experimentation

The making of Ian’s video was supported by the donations of fans and people interested in Ian’s music – a type of support that allowed Cultured Productions to put the finishing touches on both music and artwork, and the replication of the Fallout Symphony CD. When I asked Ian about receiving this support, he responded, “It is fantastic. Art exists for the community, and to have that community support its creation is a blessing.”

Through the video for “Jim Crow,” Fallout Symphony exhibits that postmodernist classical music through the help of visual imagery makes a greater emotional impact on listeners. Ian helps listeners understand that music exists within a world of art, surrealism, culture and most importantly, a community that wants to hear experimental classical music.

It is my pleasure to share with readers this beautiful video. Thank you Ian and Nasa.

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