Tod Machover, composer, inventor, and professor of music and media at MIT, discusses the many ways in which technology is transforming music. He describes his work in making music creation more accessible to everyone, as well as upcoming projects ranging from a robotic opera to musical tools to track Alzheimer's disease.
Tod Machover is a composer and inventor, as well as professor of music and media at the MIT Media Lab, where he also directs the Hyperinstruments/Opera of the Future group.
Machover has composed five operas and helped to develop many groundbreaking musical technologies, including Hyperinstruments, a technology that augments musical expression for both virtuosi (from Yo-Yo Ma to Prince) and amateurs, and Hyperscore, software that allows anyone to create sophisticated, original music by using lines and colors.
Many of Machover's principles about "active participation" in music are exemplified in Guitar Hero, which grew out of his lab, as well as through the recently launched Music, Mind & Health initiative.
Among his current projects is a new opera, Death and the Powers, complete with a musical chandelier, animatronic walls, and an army of robots.
Composer and inventor Tod Machover argues that musical notation is nothing more than "a way of remembering what you did so that you can do it again." He ties that to a piece of software he created called Hyperscore, which allows children to write sophisticated music using basic lines and color.
Any music involving electronic processing (e.g., recording and editing on tape) and whose reproduction involves the use of loudspeakers. In the late 1940s, magnetic tape began to be used, especially in France, to modify natural sounds (playing them backward, at different speeds, etc.), creating the genre known as musique concrète. By the early 1950s, composers in Germany and the U.S. were employing assembled conglomerations of oscillators, filters, and other equipment to produce entirely new sounds. The development of voltage-controlled oscillators and filters led, in the 1950s, to the first synthesizers, which effectively standardized the assemblages and made them more flexible. No longer relying on tape editing, electronic music could now be created in real time. Since their advent in the late 1970s, personal computers have been used to control the synthesizers. Digital samplingcomposing with music and sounds electronically extracted from other recordingshas largely replaced the use of oscillators as a sound source.
Addressing Some of Tod's Commentary on Rhythm Games Like Rock Band...
Tod, please take the following as constructive criticism, not an attack...
Tod, some of your comments make it seem as though you've not actually played a rhythm game, like Rock Band, though you make some disparaging remarks about them. I would suggest that you play the game (Rock Band), then formulate your opinions on how it might be damaging "music" as a whole.
Music is a visceral and instinctive thing for the Human Species (As well as other species). Rock band allows folks to tap into that and participate (Feel as though they are participating) in performing their favorite songs. If anything, rhythm games - rock band especially - has allowed a huge percentage of the population to easily experience aspects of performing musically, regardless of their training or skill level. I, personally, credit Rock Band with renewing my interest in playing music. I was in band in Junior High, High School, and College. I played the French Horn & Mellophone, but was always more interested in playing the drums, often playing with the drummers and on my best friend's drum set at home... 10+ years later, I played the Rock Band drums over at at my neighbor's home. Had a blast playing it, and I was impressed with how it made folks feel as though they were playing the drums. I have since purchased and played quite a bit of Rock Band 2, started taking drum lessons at a local music store, and bought my own drum kit. All of which I would have likely never done had it not been for Rock Band.
Tod, most folks who play rock band realize that even though they can play the game well, they cannot play the real instruments. People understand this - Rock Band isn't fooling them into thinking they can play, but IT DOES give participants a feel for what it might be like to actually play the instruments or perform in front of an audience.
I spoke with the owner of the local music shop. He and his employees had complained that these games would turn folks away from 'real' music - when the games were first introduced. After the games were out for a while, what they saw was more and more people coming into the store for equipment and lessons. These games that they were complaining about were actually inspiring more people to learn to play 'real' music. Some of the music instructor's credited these sorts of games for at least a 20~30% increase in business. Many of their students' directly crediting Guitar Hero or Rock Band for inspiring them to take lessons. The exact opposite of what you seem to be worried about in your lecture...
What all you 'trained' musicians seem to forget is the first thing that attracted you to a life in music as a profession... That visceral emotional attraction to the first music that really moved you and inspired you. The experience that got you into music in the first place. These games, in some cases, are that 'first moving musical experience' for a whole new generation of kids. This feeling is what Rock Band deftly taps into and, in many cases, enhances. It allows people with no musical training or talent to get a taste of what it might feel like to know how to play an instrument, sing, and/or perform in front of an audience.
Most species respond to music. You showed some footage of birds dancing to music. My dogs get frisky and playful when I'm practicing on my drum kit. They really seem to enjoy it, and I swear I've seen them change the tempo of their actions to be in alignment with the beat I'm pounding out on my kit.
Music moves Humans and other species. Any product or technology that allows more folks to experience music is a good thing. Rock Band and games like it, have already proven to be a boon to the music industry, and in fact, these games are in the early stages of morphing the entire music industry.
These games are creating entirely new and large music distribution channels via downloads. Rock Band is about to release a software package for folks to record their own music and make it available to others via Rock Band downloadable content. This is a game changer, Tod. This allows garage bands to gain a huge amount of exposure WITHOUT a 'record deal' through a 'label'. Here's the kicker, they get paid every time someone downloads their songs. Harmonix is enabling this. In a way, they become the record label, while cutting out the middle man and high costs of traditional distribution.
All of this is in flight, Tod. You may even already be aware of it. However, you don't seem to acknowledge it in your lecture. You seem to claim that Rock Band and similar games are damaging music, but the new music instruments/interfaces that you and your team have developed for the disabled aren't doing the same thing? All these games really do is introduce new musical interfaces/instruments. Yes they are easier to use than the instruments they mimic. The same could be said of some of the instruments you show in your lecture.
I'd argue the contrary. Rock Band may wind up doing more for music than anything that has come before it. Your projects are worthwhile, but they haven't reached the MILLIONS of folks (Young and old) that the games have. Please continue what you are doing, but don't be so judgmental of rhythm games. They're not the boogie men you think seem to think they are. In fact, they are rapidly improving the future of music in society.
Anecdote: Someone hears Hendrix wail on the guitar. That inspires them to get a guitar and learn how to play. They go on to form their own successful band, or just have a lifelong appreciation of music.
This is how it generally works. Rhythm games like Rock Band, seem to be one of many ways to reach and inspire more folks to learn. Try not to view it negatively just because it might not be your particular 'cup of tea' - musically speaking.