The November issue of Wired UK is devoted to the M.I.T. Media Lab. Fun to see so many friends and colleagues profiled in it! The article on Tod Machover provides a grand sweep of his career, from Tod’s first encounter with the 4X synthesizer at IRCAM to his current work on “A Toronto Symphony” and explorations into personal music and the effects of vocal vibrations on the human mind and body. To quote:
There are all kinds of things we haven’t even begun to imagine that will be valuable in music. There’ll always be a place for the perfectly crafted song, the definitive performance. But a large part of music is going to be some kind of collaboration. Up until today, we judged music by how a combination of sounds appeals to the most number of people. One of the most important new branches is going to be to personalise music so that there is maximum impact for you, your genetics, your physiology, your psychology. Depending on how you’re feeling, it plays differently. It may play on its own, but I also think there’s going to be a role in between the basic music materials and the listener — somebody in the middle fine-tuning it.
M.I.T. Media Lab graduate student Peter Torpey, a key collaborator in Tod Machover’s opera “Death and the Powers,” has published an in-depth paper detailing the opera’s groundbreaking technology in the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in interactive performance technology for live theater and music. You can read it here.
Digital systems for live multimodal performance in Death and the Powers.
The opera Death and the Powers by Tod Machover tells the story of a man, Simon Powers, who evades death by transferring his essence into his environment as his corporeal body dies. To realize the effect of the theatrical environment coming alive as the main character, the Opera of the Future research group at the MIT Media Lab developed new technologies and control systems for interactive robotics, sound and visuals in live theatre. A core component of this work is the technique of Disembodied Performance, a method and associated technological infrastructure that translates the live performance of the offstage opera singer into multimodal representations onstage. The author was principally responsible for the control architecture and Disembodied Performance software implementation, as well as the design of the visual language used to represent Simon Powers. These digitally enabled elements were created in order to support the story of the opera and facilitate the process of crafting and rehearsing the staged experience. This article reflects on the dialogue between the design of the technological systems in conjunction with the development of the story and scenography of the opera. Several design principles are presented for the role of new technologies in digital opera and music-driven performance contexts that arose during the course of this work. The discussed methods of cuing, authoring, organizing and collaborating suggest an approach for scoring the multimedia elements of digitally augmented stagecraft.
A couple of weeks ago, Tod gave a keynote at the “Music: Cognition, Technology Society” conference at Cornell University. Tyran Grillo just posted this thorough summary at Sequenza 21, a blog devoted to contemporary classical music. He write: ”Music: Cognition, Technology, Society set a formidable intellectual task before participants of the selfsame conference at semester’s end on the quieting campus of Cornell University. Under the attentive care of organizers Caroline Waight, Evan Cortens, Taylan Cihan, and Eric Nathan, what might have been an overwhelming conceptual storm proved smooth sailing through a series of back-to-back panels.” Check out the full report for an excellent account of the presentations, keynotes and concerts. And here are his impressionistic reflections on the concert performed by the Argento Ensemble. Tod’s “Another Life,” he says, is “A pixilated pastoral for the 21st century.”
Here’s a fragment from the beginning of “Another Life” performed in 2006 by Collage New Music.
Tod Machover (far left) with the Argento Ensemble. Photo by Evan Cortens.
At last the story can be told! For the past several months, the Opera of the Future team has been cranking away on a top-secret project to create an enhanced version of Sleep No More, the runaway hit theater experience currently playing in New York City. Last week, they beta tested the system with live audience members. Each was paired with an online participant. The twist: Neither knew about the other. We’re not giving away too much by revealing that bit of information, because there remains so much for participants to discover once they are inside the world of Sleep No More. The New York Times Arts blogger Dave Itzkoff reported on his experience in yesterday’s New York Times: A Guinea Pig’s Night at the Theater.
If you haven’t seen Sleep No More, we highly recommend it. Some links:
Last week’s experiment at the MIT Media Lab tested out a new system to allow the listening public to express musical preferences to a pianist who responded in real time. Tae Kim’s tour de force of improvisation drew a highly engaged crowd both at the Media Lab and online, as well as some media attention. This story just appeared in New Scientist and describes the scene:
Kim, a graduate of the New England Conservatory, had been playing the piano in the MIT Media Lab’s “Opera of the Future” lab for three and a half hours at the lab’s spring meeting earlier this week. But there was no sheet music on the music stand. Instead, Kim watched colourful bubbles on an iPad that displayed what people watching along online wanted to hear.
The piece was “an experiment in collaborative improvisation”, says composer and lab director Tod Machover. People at home could listen to ten clips of music from Bach to the Beatles and rate their preferences. If listeners said, “This is nice, but I’d like a little more Radiohead and a little less Schubert,” Kim had to respond by improvising in real time.
WBUR (90.9FM) launched its “Visionaries” series today with a feature about Tod Machover. The program airs one more time today, at 5:50PM EST, and should be available later on as a podcast. The transcript of the story is available online, together with this new video showing some of the projects at the MIT Media Lab’s Opera of the Future group. Don’t miss the wonderful footage of Dan Ellsey, a 37-year-old man with cerebral palsy, whose inner composer was set free by Hyperscore software. Watch the unfettered joy on his face as he listens to a song he composed.
Cambridge, MA and Yerevan, Armenia. The opulent Armenian Opera Theater in the heart of Armenia’s capital Yerevan will reverberate with some truly fresh sounds on the evening of February 25, 2012, as two of Armenia’s elite musical ensembles dig into new pieces composed entirely by children from Armenia and the United States. The concert, “A-to-A: A World in Harmony,”features the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and DOGMA, one of the country’s most popular rock bands. The event is co-sponsored by the LUYS Education Foundation and the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan to celebrate the embassy’s 20th anniversary.
The concert will be viewable via a live web link athttp://www.luys.am/livestream on February 25 at 10:30 AM U.S. Eastern Standard Time. It will also be broadcast over Armenian Public TV H1 around the world.
Despite the composers’ youth – they range in age from 8 to 14 – their work is rich and rewarding to hear, thanks to the boost their musical imaginations received from Hyperscore, a music-creation software developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab by a team led by renowned composer Tod Machover. Hyperscore puts unprecedented composing power into the hands of people who long to express themselves musically, regardless of their formal training. Continue reading
Adam Boulanger,Adam Boulanger (right) works with student Joshua Worthing on a composition. Photo by Lucy Schaly.
Here’s a cool article and video from Adam Boulanger’s visit last week to Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, PA. Twenty-one students from the school are being trained to teach Alzheimer’s patients to use a music composition tool. They are part of a collaborative research study with the M.I.T. Media Lab, the Cleveland Clinic and the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute.
Adam, a postdoctoral researcher at the Media Lab, spent the day training students to compose music using Hyperscore. This graphical music composition tool was developed some years ago by Tod Machover’s Opera of the Future research group at the Media Lab, and has been used with great success around the world. Originally designed for children, it has been embraced by adults and has even shown powerful therapeutic benefits in people with physical and psychiatric disabilities (see Tod’s TED Talk).
Early next year, the students will teach 18 volunteer seniors to compose music using Hyperscore as part of a clinical trial.
From The Guardian: MIT students at a physics class take measurements in 1957. Photograph: Andreas Feininger/Time & Life Pictures
The Guardian (UK) – The MIT factor: celebrating 150 years of maverick genius
“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led the world into the future for 150 years with scientific innovations. Its brainwaves keep the US a superpower. But what makes the university such a fertile ground for brilliant ideas?” The article begins with Tod Machover’s hypercello project with Yo-yo Ma and comes full circle at the end with Noam Chomsky on the eve of his musical debut as the narrator with the Kronos Quartet in Machover’s newest work, “Chomsky Suite”.
Eternal Arigato, Mr. Roboto
Robot fans blog about Death and the Powers! The technology: “It’s spooky good. The 3,000-pound “operabots” directed by Xbox controls move and speak like you’ve never seen.” Is “Death and Powers” good opera? Initial reception has been good, even in picky Opera News. Is it genius engineering and application? Posing Big questions worth asking? Yes and yes.
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