by Megan Zhang
Being in an amateur garage band marks the childhood of many an aspiring musician. But so few of these young instrumentalists grow up to actively pursue their musical dreams. Twenty-nine year old Ian Fiedorek’s interest in music also began at a young age in an amateur garage band, and now, as an adult, Ian has released a solo indie rock album, as well as a 40-minute symphony that he calls his masterpiece. But what makes Fiedorek’s musical career most unique is his contemporary take on music—he pushes down the walls that separate indie rock music and classical music, instead meshing elements of the two genres together in a distinctive way.
Born in Manhattan, Ian’s passion for music began with piano when he was seven. His interest later branched off to guitar, which he began practicing at thirteen. As many musically inclined adolescents do, Fiedorek started a band, called the Rock Stars, while attending Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. His musical ambitions gained an additional dimension when he began composing his own music, prompting him to study music composition at New York University. Fiedorek was always trying to reconcile the two musical genres he had grown up playing. “Music for me has always been about trying to find the mix between the indie and the classical,” Ian said.
In 2012, Fiedorek recorded his first album, called Bishop, which is also his middle name. “The name projects a Roman image of smokey corridors and mystery,” Fiedorek said. According to Ian, he classifies the album in the indie rock genre, with many elements of classical music. The song “My Lights” begins with an elegant strings riff that provides the foundation throughout the song. Even after the drums and the guitar have been incorporated into the song, the classical undertone provided by the string instruments still persists. This blend between indie and classical music is the defining feature of Bishop, and at times the two genres’ elements are in perfect harmony, at other times in musical cacophony. Fiedorek said that this juxtaposition between harmony and cacophony is exactly what he hoped to achieve with his album. He never wanted to make an album that fell neatly into one musical genre or another. “The album is sort of struggling to find its identity,” he said.
“Previous generations had more of a set of parameters—like the hippies in the 60’s—but now, the world is so much more diffuse, so much more complex, so it’s more difficult to have an identity now,” Fiedorek said. But at the same time, having fewer variables to define his generation means that his generation can create something entirely new for itself. In the song “Babies,” Fiedorek sings, “tear down time / take something new to measure us now.” According to Fiedorek, this line explains that his generation can break free of all constraints and be free to create any kind of identity for itself, without the guiding parameters that many previous generations had.
After releasing Bishop, Ian finished the extensive musical piece he had been composing while simultaneously working on Bishop. The piece is called Fallout Symphony, a 4-movement, 40-minute orchestral masterpiece that took Fiedorek half a year to compose. Ian said that his symphony breaks with tradition in many ways. The incorporation of self-written, English vocals into the music is a realm in which few composers have dared to dabble. “Most composers who write symphonies don’t include lyrics, and when they do, they don’t write the lyrics themselves, and not in English. I wrote the corresponding words for Fallout. I wanted the challenge because I thought I could find a way for the lyrics and music to intertwine and have more of an impact than they would on their own,” Fiedorek said. He also provided vocals in the recording of Fallout Symphony and has many solos throughout the piece.
Moreover, the elements of indie music and classical music are again interwoven in Fallout Symphony, as they were in his solo album Bishop. “It’s basically a 40-minute indie rock song with classical instrumentation,” Fiedorek said. Classical music symphonies are commonly broken up into movements, each with its own musical style that sets it apart from the others. Each movement of Fallout Symphony takes a different tone while retaining a commitment to both the classical and indie rock genres. Each movement also tells a separate story, but the overarching theme that Ian chose is the idea of sad endings that may or may not give way to new beginnings. This theme goes hand-in-hand with Bishop’s theme of wanderlust. Fiedorek said the quest for self-identity often stems from a sense of ennui, and can either lead the way to self-actualization that opens new doors, or persist as a feeling of empty wandering.
The first movement of Fallout Symphony, titled “Steam of Time,” is about the fresh beginnings and renewed hope that arise after an apocalypse. “It’s about giving birth to a new world and that process being manifested by an apocalypse,” said Ian. “How would our generation festoon our crooks upon a new paradigm? How would we create something new from the ashes of something that was awful and resonant?” The ideas about seeking fresh beginnings that Fiedorek presents in this movement echo the message he conveys in Bishop about creating a new identity for our generation. With the fear of the apocalypse that marked 2012 and the talks by scientists and environmentalists of the world’s inevitable doom, the end of the world is a topic that is commonly being discussed. Perhaps the lyrics can be interpreted as a call to action, a message stating that our generation is now responsible for fixing many of the problems that are prevalent in today’s world and setting the world on a new path towards something better.
“Jim Crow” is the name of the second movement in Fallout Symphony. The name is a reference to the Jim Crow laws that segregated and racially profiled African-Americans after the Civil War. In alignment with the apocalyptic theme of Fallout Symphony, the lyrics in this movement reference the Biblical flood that killed off everything on Earth except for Noah’s ark. The flood destroyed most living things on the planet, but it also washed away the sins of humankind. Ian said that the message he wanted to come across in this movement was the idea that endings allow one to leave behind the haunted past. “’Jim Crow’ talks about how an apocalyptic flood would usually be considered to be a sad and lamentable thing, but it would also wipe away bigotry and racism and other bad things,” Ian said.
The third movement is a ballad called “Stained Glass Dirge.” “A dirge is a sad song, a death song, usually sung at a funeral,” Fiedorek explained. The movement is about two lovers separated by war and expressing a hope of reunion. The metaphor of stained glass derives from the first line in the ballad, “I want to stain you,” which denotes the lovers’ desire to cement themselves to each other like tattoos, to be separated no longer. “Stained Glass Dirge” explores the lamentable aspects of an apocalypse—the permanent separation that death can bring. In Bishop and in the first two movements of Fallout Symphony, Fiedorek paints new beginnings as the path to self-actualization, but this movement explores the feelings of fear and nostalgia involved with leaving things behind.
The final movement is also the shortest, and it is creatively titled “Filibuster Lullaby.” The movement is almost entirely instrumentation, with vocals only at the end to tie up the entire symphony. The name of the movement derives from the idea of seeing an impending apocalypse but trying to hold onto the present. “It’s about wanting to hold onto the present beautiful situation, freezing the frame right there on something that you want to hold onto, something that you love,” Ian said. Unlike the first two movements, which express the hopefulness that can stem from an apocalypse, “Filibuster Lullaby” is about fearing the apocalypse and fearing the sad ending that is approaching.
Stephen Schappler, the recording engineer who worked with Fiedorek in recording the symphony, discussed the nature of Fiedorek’s composition. “The primary word I would use to describe the Fallout Symphony is ambitious. I think Ian really wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before. The blend of orchestral arrangement with the idea of a narrative, yet abstract story sung by Fiedorek is really interesting,” said Schappler.
Fiedorek launched a Kickstarter campaign in September of 2012 to re-record and officially release the Fallout Symphony, complete with artwork, photography, and physical CDs. “I wasn’t happy with the first recording because of various issues with intonation and tuning. After I graduated from grad school, I kept listening to the symphony and realized it was unfinished,” Ian said. “It was difficult to move on in my musical life without properly cataloguing this piece. It was important to me to finish it properly.” Fiedorek needed about $10,000 to complete the project, but he lowered his target amount to $6,000 on Kickstarter, fearing that he wouldn’t reach his target goal and hence get no money at all. When the deadline arrived, Fiedorek had surpassed his goal of $6000 and set out to accomplish his mission.
After the Kickstarter campaign, Fiedorek and Stephen worked together to re-record the piece with a symphony and choir. Fiedorek’s main goal in re-recording the entire symphony was to create a new version of the recording that would be more expertly edited than the first. “Musically, Ian had a very specific vision for the Fallout Symphony,” Stephen said. “While working on the project together, I viewed myself mostly as an enabler–someone to help him accomplish that vision. We did a lot of digital manipulation to the orchestra’s original performance.”
When the recording and editing process were finally over, Fiedorek held a record release show in November 2012 at the famous bar The Bitter End, on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, to promote both Bishop and Fallout Symphony. Fiedorek performed many of the songs from Bishop and accompanied himself on piano, earning heavy applause from the audience. Both Bishop and Fallout Symphony were available for purchase at the venue.
Fiedorek also hired a public relations company called Cultured Productions to help him make a music video for the second movement of Fallout Symphony, “Jim Crow.” The video depicts a scared woman who is haunted by her memories and is wandering aimlessly through a house with many rooms. Fiedorek is in the video as well, playing the woman’s guardian angel, although the woman is unaware of the angel’s protection and is visibly losing her grasp on reality. According to Nasa Hadizadeh, who produced and co-directed the video, her objective was “to tell a visual narrative of a desperate woman seeking her guardian angel while trapped inside her own mind, personified by the house she lives in.” Fiedorek said that the music video fits well with the lyrics of Jim Crow, which is a piece about overcoming adversity. “The woman is visibly haunted by her memories of the past,” said Ian. “She can’t get out of her mind, which is personified in the house, and she’s going crazy. Throughout the video, she desperately seeks the light of her guardian angel but fails to notice him. By the end of the video, though, she’s found her angel and escaped her past. She overcame.”
After the release of Fallout Symphony and Bishop, Fiedorek’s musical endeavors continue. “Today, I’m in a band called Krystalmath, and I’m working on releasing another solo album,” said Ian. “Life is good.”