Tod Machover, a 37-year-old musician with electrified, Beethoven-like hair, is one part J. S. Bach and one part Antonio Stradivari. He's both a composer and an instrument maker. And it's both the computer-driven music and the computerized instruments he creates that have put him at the cutting edge of music today.
His 20-minute "Towards the Center" for six instruments and live computer electronics will be performed tonight at a Discovery concert in the Peabody Institute's Friedberg Hall by David Zinman and members of the Baltimore Symphony. (The American Composers Showcase program also features works by Kamran Ince, Michael Daughterty and William Doerrfeld.) Listeners will discover music that is not only beautiful (and very hard to play), but that also creates a brave new world of sound.
Machover not only combines acoustic and electric instruments but explores -- partly because the electronic component is live and not pre-recorded -- the diversity and unity of these musical sounds as perhaps no composer before has done. He is the creator of "hyper instruments," which are computer extensions of the qualities and capabilities of acoustical instruments. The computer "listens" to the instruments and creates an appropriate response that is controlled by the musician as he plays his acoustical instrument. It has given musicians an unprecedented range and control over what they do.
"Something is lost if music is not a performance art," the composer says in explaining why the computer-driven part of the music is live, as well as what led him to devise these instruments.
But it is his music, not his instruments, that has earned him the admiration of such younger musicians as Yo-Yo Ma -- for whom Machover wrote a much publicized piece for "hyper cello" last summer -- and the young crossover audience that has made his CDs the biggest-selling items in the Bridge Records catalog. Machover's music is joyous, almost mystical in the way it combines the hip-swaying energy of rock and roll and the elegance of the brainiest avant-garde scores.
He's best-known as the composer of "Valis" (1988), a brilliant science-fiction opera drawn from the works of Phillip K. Dick whose writing also inspired the movies "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall." "Valis" made Machover famous outside the avant-garde music circles in which he was a celebrated figure. But its sheer likeableness -- it made the Billboard classical charts and many "10 Best of the Year" lists -- cost Machover friends.
"It makes me feel good to reach listeners outside the world of music specialists," Machover says. "I don't believe in sugar-coating my music, but I respect the musical judgment of so-called ordinary people."
BSO Discovery Concert
When: Tonight, 8:15
Where, Friedberg Hall, Peabody Institute