By Linda Poon.
It’s easy to disregard the hum of a city—the incessant honking or indistinct chattering—or to cast it off as noise pollution. There’s real concern that these sounds pose a health risk, but a handful of artists have a different take. To the likes of Tod Machover, a composer who combines music with technology at the MIT Media Lab, these sounds are what makes a city sing.
Machover has turned the sounds of Toronto and Edinburgh into symphonies that reflect the characters of each city. His first piece for an American city, Symphony in D, invited Detroiters in 2015 to contribute over 15,000 sounds unique to the city—drumming from the streets, sounds from factories, and spoken words by local poets—that were combined with instruments played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
“Like so many things in our culture, there's a growing gap between experts and ordinary people, and I thought music is such a great laboratory to show how things can be different,” says Machover. “So I wanted the project to be a representation of connecting people—no matter what their background was in music—as equals.”
His latest project, called Project 305 and funded by the Knight Foundation, takes him to Miami, where he’s teamed up with the city’s New World Symphony academy to create an audio and visual masterpiece. He’s helping lead community tours to collect sounds and videos, and working with schools to teach students how to do the same. He’s also launched a similar project in Philadelphia, in partnership with the Philadelphia Orchestra.