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Reimagining Hyperinstruments

A special edition of MAS.825 Musical Aesthetics and Media Technology

Prof. Tod Machover, Fall 2021, W 2:30-5, E14-333

In 1987, soon after the opening of the MIT Media Lab, Prof. Tod Machover – in collaboration with then MIT UROP Joe Chung – launched a new line of interactive, intelligent musical instruments/systems called Hyperinstruments. Originally designed for the premiere performances of Machover’s first opera, VALIS, Hyperinstruments have since developed to provide extended expression to virtuosi like Yo-Yo Ma, to amateurs through Guitar Hero and a wide range of other game-like applications, to “music toys” and creativity systems for children and seniors, and in a variety of health/wellbeing contexts.

In light of an upcoming new production of VALIS at MIT (a collaboration with Prof. Jay Scheib and the Theatre Arts program), our class will explore the musical, technological and cultural history of Hyperinstruments, with an eye towards reimagining some of the “classic” applications while also envisioning a radically bold future for expressive, interactive performance. With the goal of greatly extending the sensitivity, personalization, complexity, layering, impact and “musicality” of such systems, we will study and evaluate a wide variety of innovative technologies such as machine learning, musical mapping strategies, sensing systems, 3D audio, remote/networked performance and more.

Students will have the opportunity to apply these new techniques and ideas to restoring and reinventing the VALIS Hyperinstruments for a new generation, as well as to conceiving totally new ones. The class will also participate in various listenings/viewings – as well as “local field trips” – over the course of the semester. And for the very first time, this class will be given in association with Berklee College of Music’s Fall term “Performance Technology Seminar” (taught by MIT ML/MAS alum Akito van Troyer, PhD ’18). Collaborative MIT/Berklee student teams will be established to realize final class projects that will be presented at a joint end-of-term performance in the Media Lab’s 6th floor Multipurpose Room.