TED 2008: Todd Machover

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

Presenter: MIT Media Lab's Todd Machover, who talks about how music has a special power in our lives.

Img 0287 We all love music, but it's even more powerful if you don't just listen to it -- you must make it yourself. Mozart Effect (increasing IQ in babies by subjecting them to music) doesn't work, you can't just listen to music to become smarter, you have to make it.

He created Brain Opera, which is 100 instruments anyone can play using natural skills -- you don't need to know how to play a traditional instrument. The Brain Opera led to Guitar Hero, which also came out of MIT Media Lab.

Music can change your life and the way you communicate with others and change your mind. What's after Guitar Hero? We are making toys for little kids like squeezie instruments. Software to help kids make music, called Hyperscore, allows anyone to compose music.

Music is one of the only things that people with advanced Alheimer's can respond to. It's also good for people with schizophrenia and other metal illnesses. Music is accelerating treatment in hospitals.

Music shows you who you really are. He says he's more nervous talking on stage than playing music. He's working on an opera called Death and the Powers. It will premiere in Monaco in September 2009. It's about a rich guy who wants to live forever, so he downloads himself into the environment. The stage becomes a character. The stage is a giant stringed instrument. There's also an army of robots on stage, a Greek chorus that observes the action. They are cubes, but they have a lot of personality. Stage also has a library with robotic books, each of which have high packed LEDs on the spines.

Machover wants to make personal opera and personal instruments, that can be adapted to the way you personally behave. It's the future of interfaces. He invites a young man on stage. His name is Dan Ellsey and he's in a wheelchair. He has cerebral palsy. He was flown in from the hospital where he lives in a special jet. He hardly ever travels -- this is the second time he's been out of Massachusetts in his life. He's using a text-to-speech to talk the audience. He just said he loves musics, and is using this personal instrument to compose and perform music.

Dan says he is going to perform a song called, "My Eagle Song." They are showing his Hyperscore composition. Now the music is playing. I'm not sure if Dan is controlling the playing of the music or not: he has a headband with some LEDs on it, and an iSight camera trained on him, so I think he is controlling the playback of his composition in some way.

Here's an article about Dan with a link to his music. Link


  1. I think that’s Tod Machover. You could fix it, but I think it’d be hilarious to see the second ‘d’ crossed out and in red everywhere.

  2. We are told, making music ‘makes you smarter.’

    If there is any truth to this, the ‘being smarter’ is more likely to be attributed to the learning of musical notation, theory, (ie. exercising the brain) and the repeated practical application of these elements, than the use of ‘auto-musical-devices.’

    Such quick-fix methods of musical production (that require no knowledge of scales, chords, or time-signatures, etc) surely cannot be said to increase intelligence. -Perhaps creativity, or a willingness to experiment with sound, but not intelligence… Think about it, just for a moment.

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