City Symphonies: Massive musical collaboration

Photo: Andrew Rivett, Toronto, Canada

The City Symphony project by the Opera of the Future group brings creative musical participation to everyone while encouraging collaboration between artists and amateurs, with symphony orchestras (and many other organizations) as the principal galvanizers. City Symphonies invite the citizens of a particular place to listen to the world around them, to discover the "music" in that place, and to work together to create a sonic portrait of that city that reveals its essential qualities and most important issues and questions to audiences locally and around the world. Going beyond crowd-sourcing, City Symphonies propose a new model of collaboration, where people of all ages and backgrounds work together to make beautiful, meaningful music that none of them—including the highest-level professionals—could have made alone.

Tod Machover and Opera of the Future launched the City Symphony project in 2012, and since then have created collaborative symphonies with the cities of Toronto (Toronto Symphony Orchestra, 2013), Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Festival, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, 2013), Perth (Perth International Festival, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, 2014), Lucerne (Lucerne Festival, Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, 2015), and Detroit (Detroit Symphony Orchestra with Knight Foundation, 2015). Machover and his research group collaborated with these cities to explore new relationships between author/audience, composition/improvisation, music/noise, and online/onsite while emphasizing the potential of each locale to inspire its citizens to engage with their community through music in a profound way. One of the most rewarding aspects of the City Symphonies project is that the processes employed to achieve the final work are designed to grow naturally out of each particular city and context. For this reason, the five City Symphonies realized to date by Tod Machover and the MIT Media Lab have differed widely in terms of use of imagery/video, interactive performance elements, incorporation of local musicians, and the balance of acoustic/electronic sounds.