The Crowd Sourced Symphony: An Aural Tribute to Toronto

The soundscape of Toronto spans from the roar of rush hour to the lapping waves on Cherry Beach. But where others hear urban white noise, Tod Machover hears a symphony.

“When I imagined this project first, I imagined a combination of listening to the city and recording the city, and also thinking of what music the city might suggest,” he says. “So just literally writing music about the city and taking the sounds of the city and having the music and the sounds meet in the middle.”

Tod Machover is considered the most wired composer in North America. Working out of the media lab at MIT in Boston, he was approached by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra a year ago to create an entirely new kind of music, a symphony that would be written by, for, and about the City of Toronto. Machover invited Torontonians to record the sounds of their city – everything from school children to subway chimes –so he could layer and arrange the noises into melody with an orchestra.

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The final result would be conducted under the baton of Peter Oundjian. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra conductor says finding the balance and textures in a piece like this is key.

“You have to find that place where it unravels and in a good way,”saysOundjian. “Kind of effortlessly, everyone’s just swinging along with the music, sharing the moments.”

To share and record those moments with ease, Tod Machover and his MIT grad students had to design software so intuitive even people without musical training could pick it up.

Eighth grader Felicia Cerban was one of those people. She had no ideas when she started experimenting with the program but she came up with a unique sound that made it into the final symphony.

“I just go with an easy drumbeat which sounded like people walking, talking in the city, and eventually it sounded good,” she says.

Cerban plays the flute in school but admits she’s only an amateur. For her, Machover’s Hyperscore software program is a unique approach to music because users draw notes instead of just writing them.

“It’s not just the old way of writing notes, which is fine too,” says Felicia. “It’s just the more interesting way.”

After receiving at least 10,000 entries, Tod Machover and his team sifted through and forged samples into a symphony. Machover admits he loves taking random sounds and changing them into music and hopes the people who recorded sounds for the completed work feel they helped shape it too.

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“It will be something that we feel like we all made together, and none of us could have made it alone,” says Machover. “So if it’s a good piece and it really feels like something that we made together, then I’ll be happy.”

Watch the full story Friday, April 12th on 16×9.

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