MIT Professor By Day and Classical Composer By Night – Seeking the Sounds of Detroit to Create a Masterpiece


Tod Machover is an MIT professor and classical composer hybrid, bound and determined to make beautiful music with sounds collected from the city of Detroit. Machover intends to create his musical masterpiece with the help of Motor City residents and turn it into a classical piece of music for all to hear.

The goal Machover has in mind is certainly a grand one, as he intends to create a orchestra of sound with contributions from people all over the city  as they add their own audio samples to the project. Each contribution is expected to be a representation of how each person views the city as it stands and/or any other impressions, hopes or opinions they’d like to submit in sound bite form.

The professor will listen to each submission sent to him and encourages the residents of the city to send in anything and everything they desire. Contributors can send in sound bites of cars, water sounds, crime, city life or any other sound that touches home for them. After narrowing down the submissions and composing a final piece, Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony will perform the composition in November of 2015.

Trying to capture the indomitable spirit and character of Detroit is something that many musicians have tried over the years, but not many have been successful in their efforts. The influence Detroit has had on music can be heard in songs released from Detroit natives Eminem, Jack White and Carl Craig among many other and while each of these native sons has undeniable talent, their attempts to capture the city in the forms of hip-hop, garage rock and techno, have fallen short according to critics and city residents.

His inspirational project seems to have struck a chord, and not just the musical kind, with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Miami-based organization announced their plans to donate a grant in the amount of $315,000 to sponsor Machover’s labor of love as well as cover any further expenses incurred during the process. This generous donation will aid the MIT professor in his desire to show the world that a project of this size can be done and he intends to prove it by working on one project full of robust sound and endless potential.

The large project will be called “Symphony in D” and is on a scale that has yet to be accomplished by anyone as of yet. Machover’s many years as a respected trailblazer of musical technology and professor of music and media at MIT, will surely come in handy as he tackles bringing the essence of Detroit to life. This isn’t his first foray into the world of creating musical masterpieces, either as he has composed works previously for Toronto and Edinburgh.

It was with the unwavering certainty in his ability to bring this mega-project to life that Machover displayed his confidence to the Detroit Free Press in a statement. He said, “The first goal is to make a sonic portrait of Detroit, and to make it with music and sounds of the city. It could be actual sound that end up in the piece. It could be sounds that get transcribed into orchestral music. The piece is meant to be a kind of time capsule. But Detroit is also thinking a lot about its future right now, more so than most places, so maybe the piece will have something to do with the city’s aspirations.”

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