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Sounds Of Toronto's Streets Liven Symphony


Last weekend, a Toronto symphony premiered there. The composers were volunteers around town. The composition tried to answer the question: What does Toronto sound like? And a call went out on the Internet for contributions of sounds recorded throughout the city. Composer Tod Machover of MIT helped weave those moments along with a few traditional instruments and do a crowd-source symphony. He joins us now from the studios at MIT in Cambridge. Thanks so much for being with us.

TOD MACHOVER: Great to be here. Thank you.

SIMON: So, how did it work?

MACHOVER: We organized a series of get-togethers either via Skype or by me going to Toronto. We'd sit down and take some of the material, the building blocks of the piece, and shape it into a section or a texture that would end up in the final piece.

SIMON: How many sounds did you get it?

MACHOVER: There were about, you know, in the 4,000 sound category.

SIMON: Well, we have a couple of moments from the symphony we'd like to play. Maybe you can tell us about them. First is the beach orchestration.


SIMON: Lake Ontario seagulls?

MACHOVER: There you go. So, one of the nice things about Toronto is that it's right on the beach. And so a lot of people sent beach sounds. So, what I did for this is I took one of the beaches and I took many different recordings and turned them into a composite recording. And then we actually had one of these live sessions with the youth orchestra of the Toronto Symphony. And we listened to it. And I said, OK, now we're going to throw away the recording and let's just use your acoustic instruments and see if we can reproduce that sound and that quality and that feeling.

SIMON: Here's a sound that has youngsters in it.


SIMON: What was that?

MACHOVER: So, one of the groups that I found was a group called FYI Kids, who we just heard. And I took a variety of their vocal textures, like those laughs and their scream and wrote it into the music. And a lot of the sounds like the beach were totally transferred from the real recording to the orchestra. This was a case where it was fantastic to mix the two. So, the orchestra imitates the kids and responds to the kids and kind of takes off from the scream and turns it into something else.

SIMON: We've got, I gather, a big finish.


SIMON: I must say, it sounds like a great tribute to what's certainly a great city.

MACHOVER: I fell in love with the city and I also kind of fell of love with this process of making a portrait of a place with the people who live there. It's a great unifying factor and, you know, it's a start of something which I think I'm going to keep trying in other places.

SIMON: Composer Tod Machover. Thanks so much for being with us.

MACHOVER: Thanks so much, Scott.


SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.