Video: How to use music to bring people together

“Anything you can do to bring people together through music is the right thing,” says Tod Machover in this video for the World Economic Forum. He’s Professor of Music and Media at MIT Media Lab, and is on a mission to connect people through music and technology. His projects range from making a new “hyperinstrument” for world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, to staging futuristic robot operas and experiments designed to boost health and wellbeing. Online game “Guitar Hero” grew out of his Machover’s lab, and his passion is to enable everybody to make music together.

Watch the video above for the full talk, or get a flavour from the quotes below

On connecting through music

“The general public can listen to music together, but also make music together as equals. The most interesting thing is how music brings people together.”

“One line of work that I’ve done is try to extend instruments. A famous one is a cello for Yo-Yo Ma. The idea is can you take an incredible cellist like Yo-Yo, build an instrument that measures everything he’s doing with his body: how his hands move, where his left hand is, what it sounds like, what his body gesture is. So, just by playing the cello, the cello can become an orchestra. It can become an instrument you’ve never heard before. It can become an extension of his musicality.”

“What would happen if musicians could sense each other’s performance? Could they know more about what each other is about to play, what the feeling of somebody’s playing is. Here are two of my students who are improvising. Their performance is being analysed, and pressure and little motors on their bodies, heat sensation, is being sent from one to the other, so it feels like they’re totally connected in their performance.”

On Opera of the Future

“Death and the Powers is an opera about human beings and robots. It’s about a man named Simon Powers who wants to live forever. He’s rich and successful and powerful, and he decides to build a whole environment that can download everything about himself. He wants to preserve his memories and his personality, his abilities to reach out to his loved ones, even to manipulate his businesses. But he’s tired of the world, so he wants to go.”

“He leaves the stage and you don’t see him again until the very end. But the whole stage comes alive, because we measure everything about him as a performer during the show. We measure his singing, his gestures, his facial expressions, his muscle tension, his breathing. Things that are not controlled consciously, but are intimately connected with his feeling. Everything on stage – the music, the set itself – is all controlled by him. We take all of these measurements during the course of the opera, we analyse them and send them to control our show.”

“His daughter Miranda struggles most with the fact that, yes, this is her father in the walls and the robots everywhere, but something’s missing. What is that? What is the difference between music and technology? That’s what the show’s about.

On Composing the City

“One of the best things that music does is to connect people, and it is a fantastic way to experiment with a new kind of collaboration. Trained artists, students, people who like listening to music but have had no training, the general public, can not just listen to music together, but can make music together as equals.”

“We’ve been working on a series of pieces called City Symphonies. It started in Toronto, then went to the Edinburgh Festival, and then to Perth, Australia. The idea is to make a musical portrait of the city, partly with music, partly by listening to the city, seeing what the sounds are and how those sounds could be turned into music. The trick is that I invite everyone in the city to collaborate with me to make the piece. From the very beginning, to the very end we’re in this together. It’s not my piece with crowdsourcing. It’s a real collaboration.”

Author: Tod Machover, is a composer and an innovator in the application of technology in music.

Image: A child plays an accordion, made with plastic.  REUTERS/Henry Romero.  

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