Launching Symphony in D: A collaborative symphony by and for Detroit

MIT Media Lab composer Tod Machover. Photo by Priska Ketterer.

What does Detroit sound like? Today, Knight Foundation is announcing a new partnership with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Composer Tod Machover of MIT to find out by creating a collaborative symphony by, for and with the people of Detroit. Below, Machover writes about the process that will be unveiled today at an event in the city.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be starting on the Symphony in D project, which proposes to create a musical portrait of Detroit using both notes and noises, and created by me in collaboration with everyone in Detroit who wants to participate…and I hope that means you! The project starts this week, will develop over the coming year, and will be premiered by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra almost exactly one year from now (all thanks to the support of Knight Foundation). One year seems like a long time, but I promise you that it will go by very quickly. So I invite you to join me as soon as you can in this adventure to create Symphony in D together. Related Link 

“Announcing ‘Symphony In D’ ” on YouTube

I have learned a lot while working on four such collaborative symphonies over the past two years – for Toronto, Edinburgh, Perth, and currently Lucerne– and will build on these other projects to make our Detroit collaboration even more fun and satisfying. And it is so very exciting to bring the City Symphonies project to the U.S. for the first time, and especially to Detroit. No city in the world has such an opportunity to study its proud past, to reflect on current possibilities and to boldly build a different future.

I grew up in the New York area and currently live in Boston, but have visited Detroit over the years – for family, friends and music – and spent time in July and again in October re-exploring the city, driving and walking through neighborhoods, meeting people, and listening, listening, listening. I am beginning to sense how Detroit’s driving rhythms – of factory, cars and conversation – are reflected in the beats of Motown, the DSO’s Mahler, electronica and more. I am fascinated at how the enormous size of Detroit interlaces nature and urbanism in unique ways, especially as people move and neighborhoods change. And I am moved by the individual brilliance I have seen everywhere – from street virtuosi at Eastern Market to the singular vision of Hamtramck Disneyland as well as to the incredibly diverse communities that are working together, and thinking together about how to build the New Detroit as a home for everyone.

My dream is to collect all of these impressions of Detroit – past, present and future – in sound, to transmute those sounds into “music,” and through our Symphony in D to tell a story about what Detroit feels like now, and what it could be in the future. You can find several ways to contribute, including submitting sound via email or online and eventually creating sounds through an app, at

I am developing my own ideas about all of this, but our project will only have meaning if we do this together. There are so many ways for you to participate – no matter what musical background you do or don’t have, what kind of music you like, where you live, how old you are, etc. – and I really hope that you will jump in and take part. You’ll have the opportunity to record and send your favorite sounds, to shape and vary music as it develops, to lay down beats and tweak timbres, to trade ideas about Detroit’s problems and potential, and to contribute to telling a special sonic story about this great place, to be enjoyed here and now….. but also far away and for a long time to come.

Please join me to create Symphony in D. It is our symphony. The process starts now.

Tod Machover is a composer and head of the MIT Media Lab’s Opera of the Future Group.