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Photo of Tod Machover TOD MACHOVER

Tod Machover is a composer who, with his team of almost 50 musicians, desginers, visual artists, etc. at the MIT Media Lab has created the Brain Opera. This experiment in large-scale artistic collaboration premered at New York's Lincoln Center in July 1996 and is currently on a world-wide tour.

The Brain Opera is an attempt to bring expression and creativity to everyone, in public or at home, by combining an exceptionally large number of interactive modes into a single, coherent experience. The project connects a series of hyperinstruments designed for the general public with a performance and a series of real-time music activities on the Internet. Audiences explore the hands-on instruments as preparation for the performance, creating personal music that will make each performance unique. The project is attempting to redefine the nature of collective interaction in public places, as well as to explore the possibilities of expressive objects and environments for the workplace and home.

This first-of-its kind musical project was started in 1986 with the goal of designing expanded musical instruments, using technology to give extra power and finesse to virtuosic performers. Such hyperinstruments were designed to augment guitars and keyboards, percussion and strings, and even conducting, and have been used by some of the world's foremost performers, such as Yo-Yo Ma, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Peter Gabriel, and magicians Penn & Teller.

Since 1992, the focus of the hyperinstrument group has expanded in an attempt to build sophisticated interactive musical instruments for non-professional musicians, students, music lovers, and the general public. Systems such as Drum-Boy and Joystick Music allow non-musicians to shape and create complex and interesting musical pieces by using gestures or word descriptions (such as musical "adjectives") to influence the real-time interactive environment.

Current hyperinstrument research is attempting to push the envelope in both of these directions: by designing high-level professional systems that measure the most subtle and sophisticated human performance (such as current projects with the rock musician formerly known as Prince, and classical artists like the Kronos Quartet); and by building ever-more-powerful, interactive entertainment systems for the general public (such as interactive music games, music learning systems, and Internet- oriented group performance and creation).

The research focus of all this work is on designing computer systems (sensors, signal processing, and software) that measure and interpret human expression and feeling, as well as on exploring the appropriate modalities and innovative content of interactive art and entertainment environments. During 1996, Machover and his team are further expanding the Hyperinstrument system to include gestural and intuitive control of visual media.

See Tod Machover's answers to Ask the Scientists questions.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.