Steak sizzling on a grill at Pat's King of Steaks. A chorus of birdsong at the Philadelphia Zoo. These are just a few of the hundreds of sounds composer Tod Machover is collecting from people who live here for a unique musical profile to be performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra in April.
Your voice and sounds can be added by downloading the "Philadelphia Voices" App on your mobile device. Or maybe you'll run into Tod Machover recording during one of his many visits to the city.
The musical work for orchestra, voices, and sounds of the city is a commission for The Philadelphia Orchestra. At the suggestion of Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the human voice will be a focus. Because Philadelphia is the birthplace of our nation, the work will also explore the idea of democracy and what it means to residents today.
"The idea," says Machover, "is to create a piece that expresses something about Philadelphia that does indeed use orchestral kind of normal musical material, sounds from the city, in this case, as many voices from the city as possible.
What makes this different —I’ve put out a call to invite people not just to send sounds, but to participate in the process of deciding what this piece should be, and deciding what story to tell."
Samples of sounds:
Machover says it's important to him that the music conveys the human aspects of this city of neighborhoods, and also taps into people's civic sense.
"I think this idea of having it being a forum for people to feel something about what’s at stake in terms of democracy, and the society we’ve inherited. We can’t take anything for granted. It takes courage and conviction to build what’s coming next."
He wants it to be a piece that moves people, and a work that reflects the unusual collaboration with members of the public. "I really bend over backward to make sure that anyone who contributes feels they have a piece, that it's not a disembodied sound, that they’ve been part of a process, and it’s important that they stepped forward."
Machover, the son of a pianist and computer scientist, studied at Juilliard and was director of musical research at Pierre Boulez's IRCAM, the science institute about music and sound in Paris. Now a professor of music and media at MIT, he has composed for orchestras all over the world. His recent collaborative pieces have included profiles of Toronto and Detroit. More about the project.