Detroit Symphony Orchestra premieres crowdsourced ‘Symphony in D’

Photo (L-R): ADULT., a teacher and students from Detroit Achievement Academy, Marsha Music, Tonya Maria Matthews, and students from YouthVille Detroit.

What does Detroit sound like? This seemingly basic question yielded complicated answers, as composer and MIT Professor of Music and Media Tod Machover discovered once he began work on “Symphony in D”—a collaboration between himself, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and innumerable people in Detroit, all funded by Knight Foundation.

Machover, having executed a similar symphonic portrait of Toronto from 2012 to 2013, provided the expertise. But it was Detroit that provided the inspiration: some 15,000 audio samples were recorded and submitted by everyday Detroiters using special apps designed to capture the sounds of the city.

The world premiere of Tod Machover’s “Symphony in D.”

Yet Machover wouldn’t settle for the mere transfer of Detroit stories to sound bites. “Every time I came to Detroit—I was here for a few days every month, for over a year—every single meeting, every single encounter was something we hadn’t expected, and was something that really touched us very deeply,” Machover said in a short question-and-answer session with DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin preceding the premiere of the work on Nov. 20. “It was one thing to record sounds, and people’s voices and people’s music, and have them come out of these loudspeakers, but it’s not the same as having them onstage to tell some of their stories and play some of their music.”

And onstage they came, a cavalcade of representatives from Detroit, telling their stories in their own voices. Among these were other Knight Arts grantees, including writer Marsha Music and experimental musical duo ADULT., as well as poet Tonya Maria Matthews, African drummer Efe Bes, and students from YouthVille Detroit and the Detroit Achievement Academy.

The experience was totally surreal and satisfying,” said ADULT. in a statement submitted by email. “It blew open our minds to what a collaboration can encompass by showing us there are no limits on sound and genre. It was a thrill working with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Their receptiveness to our 808 beats and analogue sequences was beautiful. The risks Tod took with the composition, the trust and freedom he gave to all of the guest performers, was inspiring to say the least.”

DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin, composer Tod Machover and Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen.

They were not the only ones to comment on Machover’s trust in them as collaborators. “I am grateful to Tod for having faith in me, for his regard for my stories of Detroit, and for giving me such an  RELATED LINKS

Discovering the sounds of Detroit on Knight Blog by Valerie Nahmad, 2/23/2015

Symphony in D website:

Symphony in D on YouTube

opportunity, and I am thankful to Chad Rochkind [for] leading him to me,” Music wrote in a statement posted to Facebook. “I thank both of them for all of the work that they have done, bringing this project to fruition. Listening to us tell them what Detroit sounds like, and not vice versa.”

As Music referenced, this inclusive tone was facilitated by project manager Chad Rochkind of Human Scale Studio. “I organized Tod’s activities in Detroit, and I interfaced with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to make sure the event was properly promoted and organized internally,” he said. “But mostly, I was responsible for making sure the symphony reflected a broad cross-section of Detroit, and represented [the] past, present and future of the city accurately.”

Detroit’s past, present and future were acutely present throughout the nearly half-hour performance, which included memories from elderly residents of the city, moving readings by Music and Matthews, and declarations of hope for Detroit’s future from some of its youngest residents. The intersection of Detroit street noise and the deft stylings of the DSO were discordant and challenging at times… much like the city that inspired them. In truth, the only real way to begin to get a handle on the multitude of realities present in this city is to take it all in; by setting the bar high and listening to everything Detroit had to offer, Machover created a sonic portrait of the city that rang true.