The current issue of the Juilliard Journal is devoted to “Technology and the Arts,” a bold, good move for this bastion of traditional classical music! The issue includes an interesting interview with Tod Machover. Tod discusses how he first became intrigued by computers when he was studying composition at Juilliard, how he arrived at IRCAM and the MIT Media Lab, and some of his ideas for the future of music.
Tod Machover (B.M. ’73, M.M. ’75, composition) is one of the world’s pre-eminent practitioners of and spokesmen for the intersections of music and technology. But the first time he wanted to learn to program a computer was soon after he arrived at Juilliard, to study with Elliott Carter (faculty 1966-84). “One of the reasons I was interested in studying with Carter was that I was really interested in complexity in my music,” says Machover, who recalls writing a string trio in which each instrument was slowing down or speeding up independent of the others. It was so complicated that he couldn’t convince anyone to play it, and “a sort of lightbulb went off,” he said, adding that he thought “computers are out there, and if you have an idea and can learn how to program, you should be able to model it.”
Sara Heaton as Miranda and Hal Cazalet (’96, voice/opera) as Nicholas—and robots—are seen in a 2011 Chicago Opera Theater performance of Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers. It will be presented by the Dallas Opera this month. (Photo by Jonathan Williams)
What fun! WQXR (105.9FM in New York City) ran a piece on its blog today on “Top Five Musical Pieces for Toys” that includes Tod Machover’s “Toy Symphony”. The full hour-long program on John Schaefer’s New Sounds can be heard here.
Not to be confused with the previous work of the same name, Tod Machover’s Toy Symphony is both a composition and a project to introduce children. Machover, a professor at MIT, created electronic musical “toys” that children play as part of the works that were included in the project. Machover’s symphony, which also features children playing his electronic inventions, was the finale of the program. Toy Symphony toured throughout the world, making a stop at the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan in 2003.
The M.I.T. Media Lab Opera of the Future group’s work is the subject of a full-page article by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim in the August 16th issue of the New York Times. It’s an engagingly written piece that covers the history of Tod Machover’s work in music composition and technology, from hyperinstruments to “Death and the Powers” and ongoing experiments in interactive composition for orchestras. Accompanying the story is a terrific slide show of photographs by Katherine Taylor. Tod’s newest work, “Festival City”, premieres next week, on August 27th, at the Edinburgh International Festival.
With Machover as guest-curator, the 2013 New Creations Festival takes a suitably technology-driven perspective, exploring the evolution of music from past to future with a selection of boundary-bending works which bring the past to the present and redefines the instruments of an orchestra. The Festival opens with the Canadian première of Arcadiac, where Canadian composer Nicole Lizée’s work will have the orchestra perform live accompaniment to vintage arcade games of the 1970s and 1980s, followed by Machover’s Jeux Deux, an interweaving of hyperpiano, orchestra, interactive software and live graphics (Mar 2, 2013). The Festival’s opening programme closes with guest conductor Carolyn Kuan leading the Canadian première of the Mason Bates’s symphony-scale piece Alternative Energy, which depicts the past, present, and future of energy using field recordings and acoustic orchestra.
Here’s Tod Machover yesterday onstage at Roy Thomson Hall with “hyper pianist” Michael Chertock rehearsing “Jeux Deux”, composed for the Boston Pops in 2005. Chertock performed in the world premiere (watch video clip).
“I can play [the Hyperviolin] and it will sound like a flute or a human voice, yet using the technique of the violin that I have learnt. The possibilities are limitless…And the kids respond to it because it is current. Their imaginations are stimulated, they’re having fun, and they know they are part of something special. That excites me a lot.”
– Joshua Bell, violin virtuoso and “hyperviolinist”
On April 9, 2002, Toy Symphony received its World Premiere in Dublin with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland conducted by Gerhard Markson with guest Hyperviolin soloist Joshua Bell. In the weeks leading up to the concert, Tod Machover’s Media Lab team conducted workshops for the public. In this video, children and adults try out various digital toys and Hyperscore software. Watch:
We wanted to share this lovely video footage from our archives. On June 2, 2002, Tod Machover’s Toy Symphony was performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony under the baton of Gerhard Markson. Renowned violinist Joshua Bell played a special “hyperviolin”. He shared the spotlight with kids playing Beat Bugs and Music Shapers, as well as a children’s chorus.