Q&A with Tod Machover – “What’s your role at the MIT Media Lab and beyond?”

Here is question 5 from New Vilna Review Editor Daniel Levenson’s recent interview with composer Tod Machover:

NVR: You are currently the Head of the Media Lab’s Hyperinstruments/Opera of the Future group – can you tell us a little about how you became involved with the Media Lab and what role you see the Hyperinstruments/Opera of the Future group playing in the world of art, music and technology beyond MIT?


Photo by Jared Leeds for Smithsonian magazine

TM: As I mentioned above, I grew up surrounded by music and technology at home, so had both in my blood, quite literally. I played the cello as a child, Bach first, then The Beatles (with electronic manipulations of my cello) in high school, and then Boulez (the French avant-garde composer and conductor) in college. I went to Juilliard in New York and got the bug for technology, realizing that the neutrality and generality of software design and building hardware interfaces would allow me to realize any sound and performing technique that I could imagine in my head. I was invited by Boulez – then conductor of the New York Philharmonic – to be a kind of young composer guinea pig at his IRCAM institute for music and technology at the newly opened Pompidou Center in Paris, and I stayed there as Director of Musical Research for 7 years. Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, called me one day in Paris and asked me if I wanted to come back to the States to join the new endeavor, and I jumped at the opportunity, both because I wanted to return to the U.S. and also because I had the intuition that the Media Lab would be even more open and interdisciplinary than IRCAM. Luckily I was right, and have been very happy at the Media Lab ever since. One of the things I like best is that there are really no boundaries as to what “music” is supposed to be, and this has allowed me to think of many ways to expand the sound and expression of my pieces, to imagine a broader definition of who my music is for, and to imagine all kinds of ways that music can become a more central part of everyone’s lives. Because most of my projects are done in collaboration with outside performing arts organizations (such as Lincoln Center in New York for my Brain Opera, and the Monte-Carlo Opera for Death and the Powers) or major international corporations such as Yamaha, IBM or Hasbro, it has provided an opportunity to influence real world experiences and products in very unusual ways. It is very important to me that my dreams and visions can get out to people as widely and effectively as possible, and the fact that technology developed in my Lab grew into the videogames Guitar Hero and Rock Band shows that we do sometimes succeed!


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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