Symphonies have long been something played by expert musicians for an audience of mostly passive listeners. But a wildly innovative venture kicking off in Miami on Dec. 12 upends those traditional parameters.
For Project 305, people across Miami will be invited to submit sounds and images that will become part of an ambitious multimedia orchestral portrait of the city to premiere in October 2017.
This “city symphony,” announced this week, is a collaboration between the New World Symphony, the renowned tech innovation center MIT Media Lab and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has given $350,000 to fund it.
Composer Tod Machover, a co-founding professor of the MIT Media Lab, came up with the concept after the Toronto Symphony asked him to compose something for a 2013 festival. Machover was inspired by the way his 14-year-old daughter and her network of friends would create mash-ups and other alternate versions of new songs — from artists as diverse as Philip Glass to Lady Gaga — together online.
“What circulated was different versions of what people made out of that music,” Machover said. “There was a feeling of creativity and freedom to do that. It was something I’d been promoting for a long time, and I was thrilled to see that.”
In Toronto, Machover recorded schoolchildren and street sounds and asked residents to submit recordings themselves, continuing with versions for Edinburgh, Scotland; Perth, Australia; and Lucerne, Switzerland. Dennis Scholl, the former vice president/arts for Knight, heard about the project and brought it to the U.S. cities where Knight operates.
Machover has done city symphonies in Detroit and Akron, Ohio, with Philadelphia to follow Miami.
The New World Symphony, with its dedication to expanding audiences for classical music via innovative programs like the Pulse concert/club series and free Wallcast concerts in its Soundscape garden (which is how Project 305 will premiere); and the Knight Foundation, with its mission to blend culture and community and its interest in new technology, are ideal partners for Machover’s project.
“Knight has always had a priority in its arts programs to seek out projects that engage audiences in new ways,” said Victoria Rogers, the foundation’s vice president/arts. “What better way to do that than to allow the community to say if you were to describe Miami by a sound and a visual image, what would it be?”
Added NWS president Howard Herring, “Project 305 is about all of us, creative and passionate members of a community that is defining the future of urban America. Be ready to submit your Miami sights and sounds.”
Since Toronto, Machover has expanded his idea; finding new ways to reach a wider range of people, adding visuals to the mix, creating applications that allow people without musical training to compose and submit music and sounds. The scope of community involvement, and how much the city and its people determined the final symphony, was significantly boosted in Detroit.
“Each time we’ve done this project it’s been completely different,” said Machover, an ardent proponent of community culture. “By the time I got to Detroit I realized the project works the best if you can say I have no preconception of what the piece can be — I really want to sit down with whoever is interested and see what is worth putting into sound for the city.”
Project 305 kicks off at NWS’ New World Center the morning of Dec. 12 with an open forum to meet organizers and get more information. People will be able to submit material from Jan. 31 to May 12, with community events and workshops to be held during that time. After the premiere, the work will be presented throughout Miami.
Although Machover will oversee the project, the artists who will shape the work will be politically oriented composer Ted Hearne, whose 2014 oratorio “The Source,” about Chelsea Mannings’ disclosures to WikiLeaks, was called “ambitious ... stealthily shattering” by The New York Times; and Miami-raised filmmaker Jonathan David Kane, who is part of Miami’s Borscht film collective. NWS artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas will be the overall artistic director.
Machover said that at a time when arts groups are striving to connect with audiences and divisiveness plagues our political life, these kinds of inclusive arts projects are more important than ever.
“One of the healthiest things we can do now is reevaluate the relationship between experts in culture and everybody else,” he said. “If we’re not all involved, we’re in trouble.”
If you go
What: Project 305 meeting
When: 8 a.m. Dec. 12
Where: New World Center, 500 17th St., Miami Beach
Info: RSVP to Stephanie.Torok@nws.edu