Fasten Your Seatbelts: MIT Comes to TDO!

by Suzanne Calvin

From the May 18th edition of “The Guardian” (UK):

“Yo-Yo Ma’s cello may not be the obvious starting point for a journey into one of the world’s great universities. But, as you quickly realise when you step inside the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there’s precious little about the place that is obvious.

The cello is resting in a corner of MIT’s celebrated media lab, a hub of techy creativity. There’s a British red telephone kiosk standing in the middle of one of its laboratories, while another room is signposted: “Lego learning lab -- Lifelong kindergarten.”

The cello is part of the Opera of the Future lab run by the infectiously energetic Tod Machover. A renaissance man for the 21st – or perhaps 22nd – century, Machover is a composer, inventor and teacher rolled into one. He sweeps into the office 10 minutes late, which is odd because his watch is permanently set 20 minutes ahead in a patently vain effort to be punctual. Then, with the urgency of the White Rabbit, he rushes me across the room to show me the cello. It looks like any other electric classical instrument, with a solid wood body and jack socket. But it is much more. Machover calls it a “hyperinstrument”, a sort of thinking machine that allows Ma and his cello to interact with one another and make music together.

“The aim is to build an instrument worthy of a great musician like Yo-Yo Ma that can understand what he is trying to do and respond to it,” Machover says. The cello has numerous sensors across its body, fret and along the bow. By measuring the pressure, speed and angle of the virtuoso’s performance it can interpret his mood and engage with it, producing extraordinary new sounds. The virtuoso cellist frequently performs on the instrument as he tours around the world.

When Machover was developing the instrument, he found that the sound it made was distorted by Ma’s hand as it absorbed electric current flowing from the bow. Machover had a eureka moment. What if you reversed that? What if you channelled the electricity flowing from the performer’s body and turned it into music?”

For the rest of this article, you’ll have to click here.

But to see and hear Tod Machover on these and other topics including his new cutting edge opera “Death and the Powers,” all you have to do is RSVP for tomorrow night at 7:30 PM in Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House.

Our inaugural “Composing Conversation,” in partnership with the Museum of Nature & Science, is free — but be sure to let us know you’re coming, as seating is limited: rsvp@dallasopera.org or 214.443.1044.

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media and PR

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