Wired UK on Tod Machover’s Music Projects

Photo in Wired UK by David Arky

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.

Read the full article: Tod Machover invents instruments, robot operas –- oh, and Guitar Hero

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Lefsetz Letter from Singapore

On his recent journey to Singapore, Tod met more than the usual quota of intriguing figures from the world of music and digital entertainment. One of them was Bob Lefsetz, an entertainment lawyer whose take-no-prisoners blog Lefsetz Letter is reputed to be the most widely read in the music industry. Described by Wired magazine as “a sort of digital-era pamphleteer,” Lefsetz blogs voluminously about the perfidy of the major labels, the ongoing revolution in digital music, and whatever industry executive, celebrity or artist happens to attract his ire or admiration. This fearsome gadfly joined Tod for dinner on the last night in Singapore and predictably, perhaps, Tod ended up in Lefsetz Letter the next day. Take a look to see what he had to say!

Read the full blog post: Lefsetz Letter – More Singapore

At one point or another, Bob Lefsetz has drawn the ire of major music figures. Illustration by Boneface, from Wired Magazine.

Collaborating for a more creative society

The new movie “Anonymous” shows that our culture is more obsessed than ever with celebrity and genius, and that we look for transcendent heroes capable of leading us through the darkness. On the other end, masses of people meet online as “friends” to share intimacies or to solve problems collectively. The truth is that the real power of invention lies in between these two extremes, where experts can collaborate as equals with everyone else, combining unique and broad perspectives for the benefit of all. Music provides an ideal test bed for this new mode of collaboration.

Tod Machover’s group at the MIT Media Lab has spent the last 25 years developing technologies to enhance the musical expression of virtuosi like Yo-Yo Ma, to open the expressive and creative musical potential for amateurs, children and the infirm, and to breakdown barriers between artist and audience. We are now entering a bold new phase of inter-skill collaboration, informed by the recent successes of Guitar Hero, Björk’s Biophilia, and RjDj’s mobile music apps. Through physical composing, sequenced sonic objects, morphing Mozart-to-merengue, and creating City Symphonies and Personal Operas, Tod believes that a more satisfying musical ecology can be forged which – in turn – will be a powerful inspiration for a more creative society.

Watch Tod’s recent TEDxNewEngland talk:

Prague Quadrennial coverage

Lighting and Sound magazine has published its report on the Prague Quadrennial conference (from page 110). The event held in June 2011 is one of the world’s foremost gatherings of theater lighting and sound professionals. Starting on page 113, the article summarizes Tod Machover’s talk, which focused on how technologies such as Hyperinstruments, Hyperscore and disembodied performance from Death and the Powers, were motivated by the desire to design systems that can lead to compelling live performance experiences.

Library of Congress podcast: Interview with Tod Machover

Tod Machover delivered a lecture earlier this year for the Library of Congress “Music and the Brain” series. In this interview, Tod talks about his interest in developing technology to bring musical experiences to all kinds of people. He describes how hyperinstruments were originally developed for work commissioned by virtuosi like Yo-yo Ma. This approach evolved into the audience-participation “Brain Opera” and eventually into the hit music game Guitar Hero. The conversation goes on to discuss how the Opera of the Future research group at the M.I.T. Media Lab is exploring how interactive music environments can place the power for creative expression and communication into the hands of all people, from young children to people living with severe disabilities and Alzheimer’s disease.

Listen to the podcast here.

Rethink Music – Interview with Tod Machover

Update: Check out Billboard Magazine’s write-up from Day 1 of “Rethink Music”: In Panels And Lightning-Quick Collaborations, Rethink Music Conference Explores The Future

And follow @OperaFuture tweets about the conference, which we will be following sporadically through the day.

Inside Rethink 2011: Tod Machover on Hyperinstruments


BBC News article – Is music going back to its roots?

Evvy and chandelier, in Death and the Powers. Photo by Jill Steinberg.

Death and the Powers was recently featured in a BBC News article entitled Is music going back to its roots?, the last of a five-part series exploring the intersection of technology and culture. In the article, Tod Machover discusses the coalescence of modern music and technology, the challenges auto-tune has brought to the new generation of recording artists, and how Death and the Powers brings a more acoustic, natural feel to the use of technology in an opera. In the article, Tod says:

“I think there’s a movement away from people being satisfied with the sound of technology – they want it to feel more 3D, acoustic, natural.”

It’s something he himself has moved towards with his current production, an opera called Death and the Powers.

While the cast includes a distinctly high-tech chorus of dancing robots, the centrepiece of Death and the Powers is an ethereal musical chandelier with vibrating, pulsating strings which he calls “sonic animatronics”.

“There’s a strong movement towards using technology to enhance the delicacy – something more refined, softer, physical,” he said of the creation.

You can check out the rest of the article here.

Note: Tod discusses the development in his Lab of the technologies behind Guitar Hero and Rock Band in this video clip from the Aspen Ideas Festival:

Alex Rigpulous and Eran Egozy – co-founders of Harmonix – worked on these underlying technologies while student’s in Tod’s group, and while contributing to such projects as the Sensor Chair and the Brain Opera (see http://vimeo.com/7900562 and http://opera.media.mit.edu/phantom.pdf).