Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Crowdsourcing Concertos

Over the years, I've encountered many instances of online crowdsourcing - from encyclopedias, books, news, reviews, t-shirts, design, videos, software, mapping, government, business plans, and inventions. But I had not heard of a crowdsourced symphony before.

That is until a friend at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) told me about a new project they sponsored with Tod Machover, a music composer and professor at MIT Media Lab. They wanted to create a symphony not only about Toronto but by Torontonians. The music director of the TSO, Peter Oundjian, describes the motivation for this project:
We live in a great hub of creativity, diversity and innovation, and this is the right time to reflect the endless colours and sounds of the city through orchestral instruments.
To capture the many facets and soundscapes of the city, Machover used many methods - on and offline. Collaboration was done via blog, email, Skype, web applications, audio streaming, smartphones, and face-to-face sessions. Machover also traversed the city and recorded various characteristics sounds of the city.

What makes the project even more incredible though is tools Machover and MIT Media Lab built to facilitate online participatory music composition.

My music education ended after grade 7 and 8 when a dour, dull music teacher that had the class spend two years focusing on pitch-perfect singing and nothing else. So I never had the opportunity - or desire (thanks to that teacher) - to make or create music.

That is until today, when I tried the online tools that were created for this project. Through web-based interactive tools, called Media Scores and Constellation, users can work with existing or original sounds and tracks and play around with them through visual methods to create their own mini-compositions. Users can then upload them for Machover to listen to and incorporate into the final symphony.

The tools are still online for people to use - so start composing. It's really fun!

Here's more info, from the TSO's website, on the tools MIT created for this project:
  • Media Sores – will allow you to help complete the Finale section ("Toronto Dances") of the piece, contribute to the accompaniment "texture" of the work’s virtuosic "City Soaring movement, and experiment with other sections of the composition to build your own unique blend and personalized musical narrative.
  • Constellation - uses composed and collected sounds and lets you mix them into your own collages, textures and pieces, just by experimenting with moving the mouse and combining these things.
  • City Soaring - literally lets you paint the quality of a melody. Grab one of the four "brush" icons in the top right-hand corner of the app window – weight, complexity, texture and intensity – and paint over the line with it. You'll immediately see the change in color and texture and will hear the changes when you play back the melody.
Machover comments on this novel process and the final results:
The idea of collaborating with Torontonians to create a symphony interested me both because I thought it would lead to a diverse and timely musical portrait of this wonderful city, and also because I felt that it would propose a new model for people with diverse musical backgrounds and experience to work together towards a common goal. We embarked on an adventure that has led me to new sounds, new friendships, new discoveries about Toronto, and new ideas about musical storytelling.  When I started the project, my hope was to convey how the incredible diversity of Toronto is wrapped in a beautiful and unified connectivity. Having just finished the piece, I think we have achieved that and I can’t wait to share it with Toronto.
The premier performance of the work, A Toronto Symphony: Concerto for Composer and City, is Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 8:00 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.  I bought my tickets today and tickets are still available.

If you can't attend the performance and you're in Toronto, you can view a customized light show on the CN Tower, which will be synced to the music.

For more about this project and Machover's work, visit the TSO's website or read an article from Toronto Life.

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