Photos from Rio

Just posted on Tod Machover’s Facebook:

Sunday morning in Rio. Got here yesterday morning; first time here. Overwhelmed, beyond words. Sensuality and complexity, beauty and squalor, sophistication and simplicity…all not just side by side but interwoven, and absolutely enwrapped, as the sea sweeps across the land, the hills are everywhere, and favelas climb up and tumble down all over. Bouncing balls (volley and soccer), bicycles, ocean waves and voices, but all is discrete and somewhat hidden. A surprise beyond every turn.


New York Times features Opera of the Future

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.

Here’s the article: Duet for Composition and Software

Here’s the slide show.

Photo by Katherine Taylor

Photo by Katherine Taylor

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

Inside the technology for “Death and the Powers”

M.I.T. Media Lab graduate student Peter Torpey, a key collaborator in Tod Machover’s opera “Death and the Powers,” has published an in-depth paper detailing the opera’s groundbreaking technology in the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in interactive performance technology for live theater and music. You can read it here.


Digital systems for live multimodal performance in Death and the Powers.

By Peter A. Torpey.

International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media
Volume 8 Number 1
© 2012 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/padm.8.1.109_1

The opera Death and the Powers by Tod Machover tells the story of a man, Simon Powers, who evades death by transferring his essence into his environment as his corporeal body dies. To realize the effect of the theatrical environment coming alive as the main character, the Opera of the Future research group at the MIT Media Lab developed new technologies and control systems for interactive robotics, sound and visuals in live theatre. A core component of this work is the technique of Disembodied Performance, a method and associated technological infrastructure that translates the live performance of the offstage opera singer into multimodal representations onstage. The author was principally responsible for the control architecture and Disembodied Performance software implementation, as well as the design of the visual language used to represent Simon Powers. These digitally enabled elements were created in order to support the story of the opera and facilitate the process of crafting and rehearsing the staged experience. This article reflects on the dialogue between the design of the technological systems in conjunction with the development of the story and scenography of the opera. Several design principles are presented for the role of new technologies in digital opera and music-driven performance contexts that arose during the course of this work. The discussed methods of cuing, authoring, organizing and collaborating suggest an approach for scoring the multimedia  elements of digitally augmented stagecraft.

Notes from Ithaca

The gorge above Buttermilk Falls, Ithaca, NY

A couple of weeks ago, Tod gave a keynote at the “Music: Cognition, Technology Society” conference at Cornell University. Tyran Grillo just posted this thorough summary at Sequenza 21, a blog devoted to contemporary classical music. He write: “Music: Cognition, Technology, Society set a formidable intellectual task before participants of the selfsame conference at semester’s end on the quieting campus of Cornell University. Under the attentive care of organizers Caroline Waight, Evan Cortens, Taylan Cihan, and Eric Nathan, what might have been an overwhelming conceptual storm proved smooth sailing through a series of back-to-back panels.” Check out the full report for an excellent account of the presentations, keynotes and concerts. And here are his impressionistic reflections on the concert performed by the Argento Ensemble. Tod’s “Another Life,” he says, is “A pixilated pastoral for the 21st century.”

Here’s a fragment from the beginning of “Another Life” performed in 2006 by Collage New Music.

Tod Machover (far left) with the Argento Ensemble. Photo by Evan Cortens.

Opera of the Future at Sleep No More NYC

Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

At last the story can be told! For the past several months, the Opera of the Future team has been cranking away on a top-secret project to create an enhanced version of Sleep No More, the runaway hit theater experience currently playing in New York City. Last week, they beta tested the system with live audience members. Each was paired with an online participant. The twist: Neither knew about the other. We’re not giving away too much by revealing that bit of information, because there remains so much for participants to discover once they are inside the world of Sleep No More. The New York Times Arts blogger Dave Itzkoff reported on his experience in yesterday’s New York Times: A Guinea Pig’s Night at the Theater.

If you haven’t seen Sleep No More, we highly recommend it. Some links:

Sleep No More NYC

New York Times – Slide show

New York Times Interactive – Something Wicked

Prelude to Toronto – Crowdsourced piano improv

Image: Lisa Grossman

Last week’s experiment at the MIT Media Lab tested out a new system to allow the listening public to express musical preferences to a pianist who responded in real time. Tae Kim’s tour de force of improvisation drew a highly engaged crowd both at the Media Lab and online, as well as some media attention. This story just appeared in New Scientist and describes the scene:

Kim, a graduate of the New England Conservatory, had been playing the piano in the MIT Media Lab’s “Opera of the Future” lab for three and a half hours at the lab’s spring meeting earlier this week. But there was no sheet music on the music stand. Instead, Kim watched colourful bubbles on an iPad that displayed what people watching along online wanted to hear.

The piece was “an experiment in collaborative improvisation”, says composer and lab director Tod Machover. People at home could listen to ten clips of music from Bach to the Beatles and rate their preferences. If listeners said, “This is nice, but I’d like a little more Radiohead and a little less Schubert,” Kim had to respond by improvising in real time.

The event was designed to test a new tool and approach to engage Toronto residents in contributing musical ideas to our current project, “A Toronto Symphony: Concerto for Composer and City.” Visit the site for more information and to SIGN UP!!

Read the full New Scientist article: Crowdsourced piano-playing lets you choose the tune