Tod Machover‘s composition “Flora” was created in 1989, a collaboration with Japanese computer graphics artist Yoichiro Kawaguchi. The video has been unavailable for a while, but has recently been re-edited by Peter Torpey, a PhD student in Tod’s Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab. Tod writes about “Flora” and this new version of the video:
“It is a real pleasure to have my “Flora” music combined again with Yoichiro Kawaguchi’s video. The piece itself – composed in the summer of 1989 as a collaboration (mostly by fax!) with Kawaguchi – is one of the few pieces I have ever created for prerecorded medium, since most of my work uses technology to enhance live performance. But kind of like The Beatles (and definitely inspired by them), I have always loved working in digital recording studios and being able to combine numerous sonic layers and sources to make new hybrids and to allow textures to flow freely and surprisingly from state-to-state. I have also always been drawn to writing melodies, and – inspired by another “B”, Bach – building complex counterpoint that grows out of, and surrounds, this lyrical core.
“The melody serves as a guide – a kind of musical tie-line – through the varied musical landscape. In this way, “Flora” is one of my most typical pieces, and one where studio technology allowed me to combine fragments of recorded singing voice, synthetic models of the voice, and artificial sounds to create something which is both simple and complex. So listening back to this piece – written more than 20 years ago – makes me realize that many of my musical ideas are contained here, and that listening to “Flora” is a good introduction to most of my other pieces.
“In addition, the way that “Flora” starts simply and then, well, flowers into short variations of increasing complexity is also a kind of structure that I have often used. In this case, it was particularly important because Kawaguchi produced his images first and sent them to me electronically from Tokyo. His processes for creating life-like, organic behavior for artificial, synthetic imagery was groundbreaking and beautiful, but his ability to edit sections together was not as fully developed. In fact, each successive version of the computer graphics I received had the sections ordered differently! I understood quickly that the continuity for this work would need to come from the music, and that I would have to create a piece made up of fairly short units – corresponding to Kawaguchi’s visual cells – which would be linked together in a flowing, continuous form that created a complete musical narrative. This structure allowed Kawaguchi’s many visual edits to all make sense, and has allowed Peter Torpey to produce this new version.
“It is sometimes strange to experience one’s own work from a different period, but “Flora” still sounds fresh to me, and I enjoy listening to it now at least as much as when I first made it. I think it works well with or without the video; many people seem to have a strong preference for one version or the other.”
Tod’s original CD liner notes for Flora also mention that “Flora starts and ends with a simple a capella chorale. Melodies become splintered, voices turn into electronic clouds and snap back again into lively rhythmic punctuations. The whole is a sort of miniature set of variations based on the opening melodies and on the sound, texture and feeling of the female singing voice. In Flora, soprano Karol Bennett’s voice is transformed and complemented by computer electronics at the M.I.T. Media Lab, including a Synclavier Direct-to-Disk and Sampling system controlled and manipulated by specially developed “hyperinstrument” tools. The piece was commissioned by Tokyo’s Fuji Television and Nippon Electronics College, and received its premiere at the 1989 Tanglewood Festival.”
Flora was recorded in July 1989 at the M.I.T Media Laboratory. Based on the voice of soprano Karol Bennett. It was engineered and mixed by Paul Zinman, Joe Chung and Tod Machover. Joe Chung programmed the Synclavier with assitance by Bill Cavanaugh of New England Digital. Copyright 1989 by Tod Machover (BMI).
The Flora CD is available for purchase here. In addition to “Flora” the CD includes “Famine”, “Towards the Center” and “Bug Mudra”.