Today, technology has come a lot farther. But as so often happens with technological predictions, our brave new world has extended the familiar old one. We don’t have flying cars; we have iPhones. In the music world, instead of high-tech orchestral Web sites, we have YouTube. “Hyperinstruments” have spawned not new kinds of orchestras, but computer games: Two of Machover’s students used the technology to invent “Guitar Hero.” And some of today’s most avant-garde projects are epitomized by Keszler’s strange and wonderful installations: Technology enabling people to find new ways to do things that are, at bottom, very familiar.
Keszler’s piece, installed in a New York gallery space last year, was at once a self-generating system, activated in part by user views on a Web site, and a participant in a conventionally notated performance of acoustic instruments, which interacted with the reverberant sounds.
It is a metaphor of the user-technology interface: “The idea of having complex webs of communication that are surrounding our lives, and not really understanding how they affect us,” Kessler said last year in an interview with the blog icareifyoulisten.com. But the sounds themselves were low-tech. “I like to work with raw material,” the artist told NPR, “like simple sounds, primitive or very old sounds; sounds that won’t get dated in any way.”
The more technology develops, the greater the possibilities of collaboration. Machover’s latest project was an attempt to co-write a piece of music with an entire city. ”A Toronto Symphony,” which had its premiere at the Toronto Symphony this month, allowed people to use online software to write their own versions of the finale, and to submit their own recordings of sounds from around the city. The resulting work is Machover’s own, but incorporates material from all of these sources — the finale was informed by more than 600 submitted versions.
“I was very interested in seeing if we could develop a different kind of model of collaboration between an artist and the public,” Machover, who runs the MIT Media Lab’s “Opera of the Future” group, said by phone from Canada shortly before the premiere.
Getting the music heard
But spreading the word through social-media channels, Machover found he was reaching “a closed circle — people already involved with the Toronto Symphony.” He and a Toronto Symphony staffer experienced in community-based organizations began looking at how to reach a more representative sampling of the community. The result: The best way is still face to face. (Machover will repeat the experiment with a piece he’s writing for the Edinburgh Festival in August.)