Julian's blog: Sound at TED

February 29th, 2008
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TED (www.ted.com) is an extraordinary conference. Its acronym stands for Technology Entertainment and Design, and it brings together 1,600 fascinating people, and around 50 brilliant speakers, in a hothouse of ideas and connections. It’s a highlight of my year to be back in Monterey. Already (on day 3 of 4) this is turning out to be a vintage TED. Sessions will be posted on the TED website in the coming weeks – I urge you to bookmark it and check regularly because there’s been some stunning stuff.

This morning a highlight of the entire week happened, and it was about sound. MIT Labs’ Tod Machover gave a fantastic presentation about the work they are doing in Boston, ranging from an ever-expanding range of new instruments designed to engage children in music, to their new Hyperscore software that makes composing an option for everyone in the world, to new work on music as therapy for those with both mental and physical illness or disability.

After debunking the cod science of the Mozart Effect (see my book for more on that red herring) Tod gave three postulates:

1 music is better if you make it
2 music is transformative
3 music shows who you really are

Along the way he covered the Toy Symphony, the Brain Opera, and the exciting new work Death and the Powers, which premieres in Monaco in September 2009 and sounds incredible.

The talk climaxed in a performance by Dan, a patient at Tewksbury Hospital MA who has cerebral palsy but is able to perform his compositions live thanks to a personal instrument (linked to Hyperscore software) that reads his facial and head movements and interprets them to drive tempo, phrasing, arrangement and so on. It was deeply moving to see this young man’s movements become deliberate, precise and even beautiful and he drove this unique combination of technology and music, giving us a performance no-one in the hall will ever forget. The long standing ovation, and tears in many eyes, testified to the joy of seeing a human being liberated from a physical prison and allowed to express his whole identity in this wonderful way.

Hats off to Tod, whom I look forward to meeting in London next time he’s over. I commend MIT Labs’ work to you – check them out on the web and be inspired!

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