This talk occurred earlier this year and just showed up on YouTube. It provides an excellent overview of the work by Tod Machover’s Hyperinstruments and Opera of the Future groups at the MIT Media Lab. Speaking from the Media Lab to the Munich audience via a video conferencing system, Tod and his students demonstrate the technologies and their applications to musical performances, composition, health and creative collaborations.
Tag Archives: Media Lab
The British radio program “The Sound Bath” (on MyWordRadio), dedicated to the exploration and appreciation of the human voice, interviewed composer Tod Machover about his newest opera Death and the Powers. Interviewer Angelina Kalahari, a classical opera singer herself, leads a fascinating and original conversation about how the composer approaches writing for the human voice in his operas. Very illuminating!
Composer and M.I.T. professor Tod Machover takes listeners on a guided tour of music at the M.I.T. Media Lab on BBC Radio 3′s flagship classical music program, “Music Matters”. The program airs tomorrow (Saturday, April 23) and spotlights Boston. In addition to music at M.I.T. the program will feature two-time Grammy Award winning clarinettist Richard Stolzman, Boston’s acclaimed early music ensembles (Boston Camerata and Handel and Haydn Society) and El Sistema USA, modelled on Venezuela’s now legendary music education system.
Download the complete program on this week’s Music Matters podcast.
Yesterday’s event, Music|Machines: Celebrating 50 Years of Music & Technology @ MIT, was a great success. The all-day program of talks, discussions and evening concert featured some giants of the past half-century of music and technology and attracted an overflow crowd to the M.I.T. Media Lab. The day-time talks were webcast live. Videos of those presentations will be posted shortly on the event web site. In the meantime, here are a few snaps taken with Blackberries and iPhones. High-definition photos have been posted at the FAST site!
Ground-breaking audio technologies play a crucial role in Death and the Powers, as we learn in this excellent article posted by Duran Audio. The writer interviewed Theatre Sound Designer and Consultant Chris Full, who has been working closely with composer Tod Machover and his M.I.T. Media Lab team on the project. “Tod and I first collaborated on Skellig (the Opera) at The Sage Gateshead which combined a classic operatic orchestra with synthesised instruments and real world sample textures using a mixture of traditional sound re-enforcement and Ambisonic encoding to immerse the audience in an enveloping sound scape,” Full says. “For ‘Death and the Powers’ our goal was to build on what we achieved on Skellig by increasing the versatility of the sound environment and adding a layer of real-time manipulation of the sound sources and effects.”
“I heard a demonstration of WFS [Wave Field Synthesis] a few years ago and immediately thought of how amazing this technology would be in reproducing an immersive audio environment – the whole audience area is the sweet spot!”. The problem was that at that time there wasn’t any way to drive the DSP in order to dynamically position and control sources in the soundfield.” The article goes on to describe how Full and the M.I.T. Media Lab team met these challenges to create “the world’s first WFS system specifically designed for theatrical, cinema, entertainment and theme park applications.”
Duran Audio – Death and the Powers Monaco: MIT teams up with AXYS for a Royal Premiere in Monaco
For Death and the Powers, I have primarily been working on the interactive systems, including the wearable sensors and vocal analysis system that we use to transform Jim Maddalena’s live performance into the performance of the entire theatrical set. It’s a terrific theatrical challenge: what do you do when your main performer is not actually visible to the audience, but has to be present in a completely non-anthropomorphic form? I’m measuring all kinds of elements of Jim’s performance, from his singing voice to his gestures to his breath, and abstracting all of these elements into complex parameters that convey the character’s emotional expressivity, like the qualities of his movement or the timbre of his voice. These parameters can then be mapped to parameters of the graphical system that drives the visual content on the three “bookshelves” of the set. These mappings are not naïve or one-to-one, with just one particular sensor linked to just one parameter of the visual output. Instead we’re creating sophisticated and rich connections that make the walls seem alive and able to convey the presence of Simon Powers.
One important part of this work was to create a mapping system that would be very flexible and react appropriately to the fast-paced theatrical rehearsal process. The visual system is capable of creating an enormous variety of representations of Simon Powers; as those representations change and develop from scene to scene and during the course of rehearsals, the way that they’re controlled by the live performance has to change as well. I have to be able to adjust the mappings between Jim’s performance and the visuals immediately when given directions from Diane Paulus or visual notes from Alex McDowell, without having to stop the program to make changes. The rehearsal process so far has been testing that system, but it seems to be working successfully!
Tod is on a media roll this week… here’s a terrific article in Boston Magazine – Genius Composition: How professor Tod Machover and a group of MIT scientists are creating the future of music. Here’s a quote: “Machover believes the music – not the technology – is the message. And if this means alienating the purists who think that all these gadgets are somehow inauthentic next to a violin or cello, so be it. “What’s authentic is anything that allows an individual to communicate,” he says.”
The article seems bound to stir up some strong opinions regarding what is “legitimate” music-making in this age of technology-assisted and technology-enhanced musical experiences. What do you think?
So things have been pretty busy over here at Opera of the Future! Last week Iwas introduced to the creative team in a series of meetings aimed at evaluating the progress of the set, the music, and the singers. On Monday morning I sat in on a meeting with production designer Alex McDowell, technical director Peter Colao, visual designers Matt Checkowski and Peter Torpey, associate director Andrew Eggert, production development manager Bob Hsiung, research assistant Elly Jessop, and of course, Tod Machover himself. Since most of the creative team came in from scattered places all around the world – Los Angeles, New York, and Montreal to name a few – there was a lot of material to check in on, particularly having to do with the System, Simon’s three-paneled last invention that eventually absorbs Simon’s ideas, memories, and emotions.
The back-and-forth between the production team was incredibly fun to observe – Peter brought up the concern that the System might not fully incorporate Simon’s humanity (I think Matt put it best when he said “we don’t want it to look like an iTunes screensaver,”) to which Tod responded that hopefully this could be addressed by early rehearsals with Simon (played by James Maddelena). Alex noted that it would be important for the orchestra to have the emotional core of the system, at which point Tod asked: “are you saying that we literally want to plug the orchestra in?” Alex: “That’s what I think, yeah.”
The lab also just received the chandelier from Mystic Scenic Studios, the fabrication company in charge of building the sets. The piece itself is pretty awe-inspiring, and its actual arrival at the lab brought about new discussions about how to incorporate the several layers of the chandelier into the show – specifically, in how to reference the chandelier in the beginning of the show, its connection to the different points of the show, and how exactly to incorporate music into its design.
These meetings brought everyone together just in time for Sponsor Week at the Media Lab, which is the biannual gathering of corporations invested in all Media Lab projects. During this frenzied time, corporate sponsors come to the lab for a few days so that they can view demonstrations of current work, attend research group open houses, and attend talks by outside speakers. For the opera, it means several open houses displaying the robots, the chandelier, and the performance capture system; for me, it meant running around sticking my camera in people’s faces, hoping to capture each component on display and the spiel they were giving. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of all the commotion than I can explain:
This week, Tod is in New York giving a presentation with Marvin Minsky at the Hayden Planetarium, so you’ll be hearing more from me once Tod gets back to Boston. Rehearsals start next week. Until then! (Additionally, by the next time you hear from me, I’ll be an MIT graduate. That part feels more surreal than a chorus of robots waxing poetic in song, but I guess stranger things have happened..)