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The Future Of Music?

What will music sound like in the next century? Tod Machover has a lot of ideas on that question. Machover, a professor at the MIT Media Lab, is the inventor of the "sensor chair" seen on this week's 48 Hours (if you missed it, click on the clip to the left) Machover is also the driving force behind the "Brain Opera," a sort of interactive, digital free association symphony that is currently touring the world. spoke to Machover recently. Here are a few of his many original thoughts.

How The Sensor Chair Works

Machover: "What happens is there's a piece of metal on the seat of the chair and when you sit down on the chair and your rear end touches that metal you actually become part of an electric circuit, you don't feel it, there's very low electricity but there's actually electricity that starts coming out of your body everywhere ... What we do is we take that [electrical] information, the information of how much electricity is in that field, what that means about where your hands are and we send it to software. Then its kind of neat because we can then decide through the software what that's going to mean and what it does."

On His Own Childhood

Machover: "I sort of came to all of this from music first, and then technology. It's sort of funny because life kind of comes full circle. My mom is a pianist but made her career teaching kids and is especially well known as a music teacher for kids. And my dad is a one of the first people in computer graphics ... So I kind of grew up with music always in the house, and also technology..."

The Next Big Push

What does a digital composer and theorist look like? For more on Machover and his work, check out his web site.
Machover: "The next big push is going to be how to introduce young children into this music. We're actually going to call them music toys, something which aren't really music instruments but something really new. And that kind of goes back to my mom's interest in teaching kids."

On His Wildest Dreams For Music

Machover: "I think the really key idea of the hyperinstrument is that it puts some smarts into the instrument itself, so instead of the instrument being a keyboard waiting there for you to play it and hit the hammer, the keyboard actually knows something about what you are doing. And it uses that information to expand and enhance what you can do with the instrument. The important thing is that it's smart and responsive. The dream of this, sine I started 20 years ago, is that these instruments are kind of your best friends. You want them to read your minds, you want them to in a sense know what it is that you're trying to express through your singing, or your playing or whatever it is and use that information to get out in a more complete way what it is that you have inside. And you can imagine that it has to do this in a different way depending on who you are."

An MIT researcher demonstrating the Sensor Chair, one of Machover's "hyperinstruments." (CBS)

On What Compelled Him To Create His Inventions

Machover: "I started thinking look we've gotta make music live again, we've gotta bring back the simple fact of getting on stage, jamming with other people, either for people in an audience or just together as friends. There must be a ways to bring that back in music and keep a lot of the developments and improvements and kind of wonderful things that technology has brought. Extra color, extra power, precision, loudness, the ability to fill a room with sound, things that are really wonderful. We must be able to keep that and also keep the human directness. So I started building these things I called hyperinstruments in the mid-80s."

On What's Wrong With Music Today

Machover: "Less and less people are actually making music themselves. Learning most instruments is way down. A hundred years ago, most educated people used to learn at least enough piano toÂ…you know there obviously were no CDs. But most people made music by sitting around in a living room on a weekend and playing through popular songs or playing through piano versions of new pieces coming out by Brahms, Beethoven, or whoever. And also you know most people used to go to church or synagogue or whatever and sing along with a church service whether it was hymns or response back in forth and that was a very important part of the week and these days the numbers of people going to communal places where people sing together is way down."

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interview by David Kohn

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