Q & A with Tod Machover – “Do you feel a personal connection to the character of Simon Powers?”

New Vilna Review Editor Daniel Levenson’s recent interview with composer Tod Machover asked wonderfully probing questions that elicited thoughtful, revealing replies. It’s a long interview, and we thought readers would enjoy seeing them in a “Q&A of the day” format. Here is question 1:

NVR: You recently participated in an event sponsored by the New Center for Art and Culture in Watertown, Massachusetts, in which you discussed your collaboration with Boston University Professor and former US Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, on a new opera entitled “Death and the Powers: A Robot Pageant.” In this work you have created a world in which it has become possible for one very wealthy man (and members of his family) to escape death by transferring his consciousness from the organic to the electronic – in your own work as a musician you often combine these two elements – the organic and the electronic – do you feel a personal connection to the character of Simon Powers? Does he represent on stage, as a work of fiction, a synthesis that you have created in part, within your own life and work?

TM: I always work on projects that have a deep personal interest for me, and by extension, I always identify – or at least empathize – with all of the characters in my operas. What drew me to the character of Simon Powers, however, is not so much his experiment with turning his human existence into a technological one (too radical even for me!) but rather his deep desire to create a living legacy that would allow him to pass along the richness and texture of his life to his loved ones – and even to stay in contact and communication with them – after he is gone. And while legacy and mortality are certainly things I think about for myself, as we all do, the situation that really inspired me to write this opera was the fact that my parents – with whom I am extremely close – are getting older, and I am very conscious about how difficult it is to transmit the wholeness and the details of their lives to my teenage daughters, skipping that one generation. This has made me think about the potential for creating and transmitting legacy in more creative ways, and also about the poignancy of what can’t be transmitted or what others don’t want to receive. For me, technology has always been a powerful tool to explore such issues artistically and practically, and I have certainly tried to increase my communicative palette through these means. But the basic questions posed by Simon Powers – and the responses of his daughter Miranda and wife Evvy and all the characters in the opera – are human and spiritual.

From the New Vilna Review: “Music, Technology and Immortality: an Interview with Composer and MIT Professor, Tod Machover”

Copyright 2011 The New Vilna Review. Republished here with the express permission of the publisher of the New Vilna Review.

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