He has invented software, Hyperscore, that helps people compose complicated new pieces of music through purely visual, intuitive means. He has invented musical technologies to enhance performance — spawning, among other things, Guitar Hero. He has developed a number of high-tech musical instruments that can be played with a movement of an arm, a touch of a finger. And almost any time someone wants to build a music museum, Machover is called in as a consultant.
‘The Brain Opera’
In Vienna, in a spacious building that was once the home of the composer Otto Nicolai, the Haus der Musik (house of music) is a high-tech monument to the city’s signature art form. One floor is devoted to memorabilia of Vienna’s most famous composers (from Mozart to Arnold Schoenberg); another allows visitors to explore acoustics and perception through high-tech displays — walking through, for example, a room-size drum. (Machover equates this section of the building to “one of the better science museums.”) The top floor is devoted to the music of the future, represented by an interactive piece of Machover’s called “The Brain Opera.”
Expanding how you think
“The Brain Opera” was first displayed — or performed? — at the Lincoln Center Festival in 1996. Think high-tech meets “Romper Room.” It consists of interactive instruments with graphic names — the Gesture Wall, the Melody Easel — with which visitors can make and manipulate different sounds. The sounds are then captured on chips and combined in a room called “the future music blender.”
Originally, the combination of sounds was conceived as a “performance” of the work, but the concept had to be altered to fit the exigencies of a museum space. Now, the sounds that you make are preserved on computer chips in colorful pieces of plastic, and visitors can combine and manipulate them by dropping the plastic pieces into a kind of token machine that plays them.
“It’s not meant to be a concert,” Machover said. “It’s meant to [help people] think about music in different ways. No matter who you are, there are ways to listen even more sensitively and fully than you do today. Part of it is to say you can make your own music — it doesn’t just have to be other people’s music. If you shape it and start from scratch, you’ll know about music in a different way.”
What is the goal of music museums? There are, of course, musical instrument museums, designed to preserve specific collections of objects. But “music” is a more abstract concept. Many museums have a certain amount of memorabilia, such as Seattle’s Experience Music Project, on which Machover also consulted and which opened the same year as the Haus der Music, in 2000. It also incorporates an element of interactivity so people are not just looking at exhibits but also making music themselves.