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Mass Collaboration for a City Symphony

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tod Machover, musician, inventor and composer, has invited the 2.6 million residents of Toronto to join him in a mass musical collaboration.

When The Toronto Symphony asked him to curate an upcoming festival, Machover, an educator at the MIT Media Lab, saw opportunities to bring more music into people's lives, to experiment with musical technologies, many of his own design, and to foster dialogue among creators and consumers of music. In his invitation to the citizens of Toronto, he wrote:

"I'm inviting you to collaborate with me to compose a new symphony, which will be premiered by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (in March 2013) ...Some of the music will be by you, some by me, and some by us together. My hope is that we will create something neither you nor I could have done without each other, and that will be surprising, stimulating, and beautiful, a musical portrait about-and by-Toronto."

In a story in the Toronto Standard by Michael Kolberg, Machover said Toronto's inclusive diversity and sense of openness and aspiration makes it an ideal place for a mass musical experiment. He also calls the city an extraordinary blend of complexity and order.

He first invited residents to listen to the city-and record or describe sounds that seemed typically Toronto. He arranged for people to accompany him on a listening tour. He compiled a library of vast numbers of sounds and created a sound collage. He recorded people saying things about Toronto in different languages. In a story in The Guardian, he told writer Patrick Kingsley "We want to go beyond crowd-sourcing to a rich new level of creative exchange."

In an interview with Amanda Hirsch, in the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism's Collaboration Central, he explained that while crowd-sourcing is a one-way request for something specific, "collaboration is something that goes back and forth and turns into something truly open." The beauty and challenge of collaboration, he told Hirsch, "Is how to coordinate one's own passion and vision with the ability to involve others, " creating a balance of individual and collective invention and creativity. Young musicians were asked to think of instruments that would best represent sounds-of ocean, for instance. Bands contributed signature bursts of sound. Many used Hyperscore, a technological tool that lets anyone, with or without musical training, use visuals on a computer screen to compose music.

On December 6, Machover issued a new invitation. Listen to him explain how MediaScores, designed by the MIT lab team just for this project, will allow collaborators to work on Toronto Dances, the finale piece of the composition. With Media Scores, creators can design their own musical narratives using line and color to choose differing tone, tempo and accompaniment. Machover acknowledges challenges in taking such a project to scale, but as he told the Standard, "If it works out right, everybody who contributed something will say, 'Oh, it's my piece.'"

Tags:  buscell  collaboration  complexity matters  music 

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