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Taking a line (of music) for a walk

by June Kinoshita

The artist Paul Klee famously said that the art of drawing was like “taking a line for a walk.” What if you could take a line of music for a walk? That’s just what it felt like when we held our first-ever composing workshop over Zoom.

We were not at all sure how our experiment would work out. A group of us popped onto Zoom on November 12 at the appointed time (10:30 a.m. ET). Because we didn’t know how many participants would have Hyperscore running on their computers, we decided to take a collaborative approach. Peter shared his screen and the group proceeded to build a piece of music together.

We started with the percussion window in 4/4. To get things going, I proposed a bass drum on each quarter note to establish a steady pulse. We each took turns adding a new percussion line: a cymbal on the fourth beat of each bar, another on the first beat of the fourth bar, then a high-hat on the first beat of the second and fourth bars. Each time we added a layer, we listened and discussed whether we liked what we were hearing. Once the percussion track had achieved a satisfying density, we played with the tempo and settled on a moderate speed that had a pleasing swing to it.

A Hyperscore percussion window four beats long with purple note droplets arranged on some of the instrument tracks
Percussion window with drum and cymbal notes

Once we were satisfied with the percussion track, we moved onto the melody. Lisa P. hummed a four-measure melody which Peter noted down in the Melody Window. After a few tweaks, he captured the tune perfectly with its subtle syncopation. What instrument should play it? A tenor saxophone felt like a good fit for the melody’s soulful, gently melancholy vibe.

A Hyperscore melody window with six purple note droplets filling two measures
Melody window with a syncopated tenor saxophone tune

With a melody (orange) and beat (red) in our “toolbox,” it was time to go to the Sketch Window. First, we took the orange line for a simple stroll, a straight line on middle C for two bars. Then we decided to jump it up an octave. After two bars of that, we added a second orange line underneath it to add harmony. We then took the orange line down a hill, from high C to low C. Halfway down the hill, another orange line came along and decided to head in the opposite direction, up the hill. It felt like time to add percussion, so we laid in a flat red line like a rock-steady floor. Two bars in, a yellow line joined in…a simple descending bass line that Peter had whipped up. 

A polyphonic Hyperscore melody window two measures long with four descending chords
Melody window with descending chords for use as a bass line

We quite liked where this was going, but we wondered how the descending orange line would sound if we imposed a bit of harmonic structure to it. Classical mode converted our soulful melody into C major—all wrong! General harmony worked well for the sloping orange parts but robbed the original theme of its specialness. Peter then showed us a cool trick. He could select sections and turn off the harmony function, restoring the original. That was fantastic, as we could now preserve melodies that we wanted to keep exactly as written, while allowing other parts of our piece to “collaborate” with Hyperscore’s machine intelligence. 

And that, folks, is how you take a line of music out for a walk.

The finished collaborative composition

If you have a basic subscription to Hyperscore, you can find our little opus on the Community board (“Composing Workshop 1”). If you want to remix it, just give it a new name and it will be saved to your account. To share it with the community, just make sure to check the “share” box. 

Our Second Saturdays workshop is held on—surprise!—the second Saturday of each month at 10:30 AM US ET over Zoom. Everyone from anywhere is welcome to join. Just register for the series to receive the link.

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Hyperscore soars in “A Toronto Symphony”

A Toronto Symphony is the first of composer Tod Machover’s City Symphonies. It was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, who premiered the piece in March 2013. With this project, Machover – who is Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music & Media at the MIT Media Lab – “rethought the symphony as a community event” (Musical America), a portrait of a place created for and by the people who live there.

As Machover described when he launched the project publicly in 2012, the goal was to create a sonic portrait of Toronto by “listening” to the city in order to discover its special features, by inviting all Torontonians to collect and submit their favorite sounds of the city and also to create original musical compositions using the Media Lab’s Hyperscore software, and then to engage in online and in-person workshops and activities to help shape the composition itself. The result produced a model which Machover and his team have brought to cities around the world. The MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO), led by Evan Ziporyn, programmed A Toronto Symphony for a concert that was to have taken place on March 13, 2020.

For this occasion, Machover revised the composition and also invited the student players of MITSO to collaborate with him to create a new section of the piece, now called “MIT Interprets Toronto”, a new twist on the City Symphony model. Another surprise was in store for the project when it was announced that MIT had to shut down – and students needed to leave campus – on March 13th, the very day of the concert, which needed – of course – to be cancelled. However, the MITSO players voted to come in for what would have been the dress rehearsal on the evening of March 12th, to play together for one last time before dispersing, and to record the music for the concert.

This video is of that March 12th recording, filmed by Peter Torpey, Paula Aguilera and Jonathan Williams. Torpey – who created the original visuals for the Toronto premiere – combined live footage of MITSO with collected visuals from Toronto, and added evocative new material as well. The video of Toronto’s CN Tower in the Toronto Dances finale is live footage from the 2013 premiere, when Machover, Torpey and team synchronized the tower’s LED lighting to the orchestral performance which was broadcast by the CBC.

Of this video performance, Tod Machover says: “Although we were not able to give the public performance of A Toronto Symphony as planned, it is especially meaningful to have this documentation of the piece that represents months of devoted work by MITSO and Evan Ziporyn. I am delighted that these young musicians were able to perform this difficult music so well. I’m also pleased that the piece ’transposed’ smoothly from Toronto to Cambridge (complete with a new section), and that orchestral music, electronics, “found” sounds, and multilayered visuals are combined just as I originally imagined them.”

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BBC documentary on the newest City Symphony

Reporter Andrea Shea delves into the creation of Tod Machover’s newest symphonic work, “Philadelphia Voices.”

From the famous Mummers’ New Year’s Day Parade to the sizzling of celebrated cheesesteaks, acclaimed U.S composer and inventor Tod Machover has been collecting sounds for his latest piece ‘Philadelphia Voices,’ a composition inspired by the heritage, sights and sounds of Philadelphia, the city known as the birthplace of American democracy.

Then in his barn studio, next to his Boston home, he manipulates these hours and hours of recording, crafting them into the music and soundscape for the piece. We also have behind the scenes access as the composition receives its premiere performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and local choirs.

Listen HERE.

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Hyperscore pieces at the Lucerne Festival

Check out the wonderful compositions by young people in Lucerne, composed with Hyperscore. Many of the pieces were introduced to the public yesterday by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and have been incorporated into Tod Machover’s “A Symphony for Lucerne,” which receives its world premiere tomorrow, Saturday, September 5, at the KKL main hall. Tickets here.

Here is one of the compositions, “Stuttering Stammering Spluttering Susan,” by Leander Perrez from Musikschule Luzern in Lucerne. More pieces are posted on the project website. Scroll down here.

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Musical offerings from Toronto kids

Several hundred school children in Toronto have been giving their Hyperscore programs a good workout, composing music about their city for composer Tod Machover’s collaborative “A Toronto Symphony” project.  Some of it may end up in the Machover’s new orchestral work, to be premiered in March 2013 by the Toronto Symphony. Take a listen to some of the kids’ compositions here.

HyperscorePieces-Kids

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Hyperscore enables “Amazing accomplishment”

As we reported previously, Hyperscore is being used by hundreds of school children in Toronto this fall to compose music for Tod Machover’s “A Toronto Symphony” project. How has it worked in practice? We found out last Friday when Tod met with around 300 kids gathered with their teachers on the campus of Toronto’s College Français. There to witness the occasion was Musical Toronto‘s John Terauds. He writes:

Hyperscore offers synthesized audio output of its own, but orchestrated by a real composer and played by the excellent young musicians on stage, these miniature compositions from pint-sized composers sounded remarkably sophisticated.

Here is one example, from Broadlands P.S. student Nebyou. What you see on the projection is the Hyperscore screen. The crazy doodle is the composition. The music is being played by members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra:

Terauds says, “I have to admit that the ease with which the user becomes a creator worries me, because it feels too easy. Part of me considers this to be a form of pseudo creation, that only the careful application of pencil (and eraser) to notation paper is real creation.”

But the results have convinced him otherwise:

These children, many of whom I’m sure haven’t had any lessons music theory, were truly and fully engaged with the act of creating music.

Isn’t that what we all dream of?

The fact that their work will eventually find itself performed on the stage of Roy Thomson Hall seems almost superfluous after this amazing accomplishment.

Read John Teraud’s full post here: Toronto school children become engaged composers in Toronto Symphony experiment

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Music from Skaneateles

We recently received audio recordings of several compositions by participants in the Hyperscore II project for the famed Skaneateles Music Festival. In April and May of 2011, composer Stacy Garrop visited schools in upstate New York, teaching students what it takes to compose music. Stacy helped kids of all ages to discover the music within; participants ranged in age from 10 to adult and included students from A.J. Smith Elementary in Union Springs, West Genesee Middle School and Skaneateles High School, as well as employees of ChaseDesign. The project culminated with the Hyperscore II Community Celebration at the 2011 festival.

We were very impressed by how each piece expresses a distinctive personality and diversity of structure. Click on the gallery images below to see what these pieces look like in Hyperscore. Do take a listen and share your thoughts!

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“Dream” performed by DOGMA

Take a listen to this snippet from a song called “Dream”, arranged and performed by DOGMA, one of the most popular rock bands in Armenia. The song was composed with Hyperscore by a middle schooler in Armenia as part of the A-to-A project. We think it rocks!

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Hyperscore at the Symphony

Music written with Hyperscore allows people to express their unique personalities. The slightly anarchic, wry spirit of this Dublin teen comes through in this humorous piece. On the eve of its premiere by the Irish National Symphony Orchestra, the composer had not yet named the work. At the last minute, he proposed “Attack of the Headless Chickens.” We think it’s a perfect fit!

 

Empower kids to tell their stories through music. Set their creativity free with your support!

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