MIT pro­fes­sor creates symphony fea­tur­ing sounds of Detroit

Kuwait Times - - WEEKENDER -

In­ter­na­tional com­poser, in­ven­tor and Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor Tod Machover spent the past year con­tem­plat­ing the ques­tion: “What does Detroit sound like?” His an­swer comes to life on Fri­day when “Symphony in the D” de­buts at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall.

Machover’s orig­i­nal mu­si­cal com­po­si­tion, which he cre­ated with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, is a blend of melodies played by tra­di­tional or­ches­tral in­stru­ments com­bined with ev­ery­day Detroit sounds col­lected, dig­i­tized and trans­lated into mu­sic via soft­ware de­vel­oped by Machover and his team at MIT’s Me­dia Lab.

The sounds, some sub­mit­ted by the pub­lic and oth­ers gath­ered by Machover dur­ing pe­ri­odic vis­its to the Mo­tor City over the past year, in­clude crowd noise from a base­ball game, the clank­ing and drilling of work­ers at an auto as­sem­bly plant, and the puls­ing beat of a street drum­mer bang­ing on plas­tic buck­ets.

Machover had 15,000 sound files - 100 hours of au­dio in all - from which to com­pose the piece. “I really wanted it to be a por­trait of the city, so I in­vited ev­ery­body in the city - any­body who wanted to - to col­lab­o­rate,” Machover said.

Detroit is son­i­cally rep­re­sented not only in sub­mis­sions from the pub­lic, but also by city res­i­dents them­selves. Spe­cial guests will join mu­sic di­rec­tor Leonard Slatkin and the DSO on stage, where they will per­form orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions, read poetry and pro­vide vi­sions of Detroit’s past and fu­ture.

The in-per­son con­trib­u­tors in­clude res­i­dents of a se­nior hous­ing com­plex; a church choir made up of mem­bers of the city’s Chaldean com­mu­nity; and a quar­tet of Detroit Achieve­ment Acad­emy third­graders, one of whom com­posed a piece of mu­sic that will be played.

Kyle Smit­ley, who founded Detroit Achieve­ment Acad­emy, said she won­ders when it will set in for her young stu­dents that they took part in such an in­no­va­tive project.

“Maybe in mid­dle school, maybe in col­lege, they might look back and say: ‘Oh. That was in­sane,’” Smit­ley said.

Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foun­da­tion, Machover’s mu­si­cal por­trait of Detroit rep­re­sents his first such ef­fort in the U.S. He has com­pleted sim­i­lar “city sym­phonies” in Toronto; Ed­in­burgh, Scot­land; Perth, Aus­tralia; and Lucerne, Switzer­land.

Machover has been con­tacted by other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties around the world about hav­ing him cap­ture their sonic essence in mu­sic and hasn’t yet de­cided when or if he’ll do an­other.

Be­fore such a de­ter­mi­na­tion is made, how­ever, he first must un­veil his ode to Detroit, which also will be per­formed to­day. “It some­how sounds like some­thing that could only have been done here. And that makes me really happy,” Machover said. —AP

Tod Machover talks to Detroit Achieve­ment Acad­emy third-graders af­ter a re­hearsal at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. — AP

Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor Tod Machover, bot­tom cen­ter, talks to a per­son mon­i­tor­ing sound dur­ing a break at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, in Detroit. —AP

Tod Machover

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