A year or so ago, I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating panel discussion on creativity at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., at which the brilliant composer, inventor, and educator Tod Machover discussed his work as director of MIT Media Lab's Hyperinstruments/Opera of the Future group.
Machover and his innovative staff have been studying music visualization, the relationship of music to health and well-being, and use of computers and magnetic force in musical training. The team also has been designing and building instruments with built-in sensors, signal processes, and computer software — hyperinstruments — that not only make it possible for anyone to readily express and experience the benefits of music but also to shape music to mood and feeling.
In the TedTalk immediately below, Machover explains hyperinstruments, the music technologies that he and his team have invented at the Media Lab, and his ideas about the "transformative power" of music. The video includes an inspirational performance by composer Dan Ellsey, who has cerebral palsy and does not walk or speak but who writes, plays, and conducts music because of software (Hyperscore) and a hyperinstrument created especially for him by at the Media Lab.
The TedTalk above references Machover's "robotic opera", Death and the Powers, which uses performance technologies invented at the Media Lab. The one-act opera is composed by Machover; its libretto is the work of Robert Pinsky, and its choreography is by Karole Armitage. It debuted in Monte Carlo, Monaco, on September 24-26, 2010 (see footage from the event here), and is scheduled to premiere in the United States, in Boston, in March 2011 as part of MIT's 150th Anniversary Celebration. The promotional video below shows what an extraordinary musical and theatrical experience is promised. A conceptual simulation of the opera's set is here. Additional related videos are here. Take time to view them; they're worth the few minutes.
Interview with Tod Machover at Big Think (2010)
"Music for the Masses", Smithsonian.com (2010)
Music, Mind and Health
Profile of Dan Ellsey, "The Power of Music", Boston.com (October 2007)
"Tod Machover on Composing Music by Computer", Smithsonian.com (August 2010)
The Tewksbury Project at Tewksbury Hospital
Website of Adam Boulanger, a Ph.D. candidate in Machover's Hyperinstruments group, who is working on "expressive performance interfaces" for people with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, autism, and profound physical disabilities.
Opera of the Future/Death and the Powers Blog