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Music Machine Mastermind Tod Machover's in Town

by Jerome Weeks 17 Sep 2012 5:26 PM

Tod Machover’s MIT students created Guitar Hero. He’s made musical instruments that respond to heart beats. He’s composed an opera for robots. He’s talking Tuesday night at Hamon Hall at the Winspear.


Image from The Atlantic

Just finished an enjoyable chat with Tod Machover, the MIT Media Lab professor of music, something of a guru in electronic music circles. We were talking about the many different avenues our onstage discussion could take tomorrow evening in Hamon Hall at the Winspear — presented by Dallas Opera and KERA’s Art & Seek.

For instance, we could talk about his collaboration with the great cellist Yo-Yo Ma on Begin Again Again, a composition by Machover that debuted at Tanglewood in 1991. The piece involved the invention of the ‘hypercello,’ a specially-adapted cello (in particular, the cello bow) that allowed a computer to pick up changes in bow pressure and fingering position. It translated that data into music. In other words, Yo-Yo Ma interacted with the cello and with the music it produced in a more ‘full-body’ way. Machover’s invention of ‘hyperinstruments’ allow children to begin creating music with simple gestures — but they can also be refined to virtuoso techniques.

Or we could talk about how Machover’s hyperinstruments led  students of his to develop the hugely successful music video games, Guitar Hero and Rock Band. (Guitar Hero III was the first single video game to reach $1 billion in sales.)

Or I might ask Machover to discuss his current creation. He’s composing a symphony with the help of the entire city of Toronto. It is literally titled “Toronto Symphony: A Concerto for Composer and City.” People had until last month to provide him with sounds — from an entire ‘bicycle music festival,’ for instance — which he will incorporate and orchestrate for the concerto to premiere March 9.

But mostly, I think we’ll want to talk about Death and the Powers, the world’s first ‘robot opera,’ which premiered at the Monaco Opera in Monte Carlo. To get some idea of what that involves, you can watch this video. To see more, to listen to Machover discuss it (and ask him questions) and to hear soprano Sara Heaton and Machover perform an aria from it, you’ll need to come tomorrow, but first RSVP at [email protected] — because the event is free but seating is limited.

I’m looking forward to it.