When Google Owns Your Instrument

Photo: John Walder/courtesy of DBR Music

There was a time when Daniel Bernard Roumain encouraged people to call him a hip-hop violinist or an African-American composer, but those labels no longer speak to him. Today, he prefers the more specific “Haitian-American,” and points out that his musical language includes styles from all over the world. Perhaps the most accurate—and ethnically neutral—label would be a YouTube composer.

For One Loss Plus, a film-plus-live-music work that debuts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November, Roumain asked friends and fans to submit videos, music clips, and e-mails, which he then wove into a meditative tapestry. “I wanted to use YouTube as a musical instrument,” he says, “to get new material and engage the public.” To that end, he sent potential contributors a philosophical riddle. “My parents are from Haiti, and we mourn death differently: We celebrate the good that a person brought into the world. So I asked: ‘What is gained when someone or something is lost?’ ”

As submissions came in, the composer built music around suggestive snippets of speech. He also worked in interviews with residents of his Florida hometown. One centers on an elderly man who recalls a fleet of U.S. Navy blimps hovering over Haiti during World War II. However that relates to his existential question, Roumain is canny enough to realize that such a powerful image requires a soundtrack of its own.

One Loss Plus
At the Brooklyn Academy of Music; November 14.

When Google Owns Your Instrument