Video of “Symphony in D” Premiere

We have a very special video to share with you today – It’s the HD video recording of the world premiere of Symphony in D on November 21, 2015 performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra featuring many of our collaborators/partners we met throughout the entire process as guest performers. And here is a peak at the program book to get even more information about our project and the performance featuring a reflective essay about the project by Tod himself, which has been included in full below. We hope you enjoy the show!

Guest Performers:

  • Marsha Music, poet and storyteller
  • Robert Billings, Eudora Gentry, Thomas Sertima, Marge Roberts, residents from American House Senior Living Communities
  • Sarai Figgs, Tommysha Mealy, Vakharia Twilley, and Janiya Tinsley, 3rd graders from Detroit Achievement Academy
  • Dr. Tonya Matthews a.k.a. “JaHipster,” President and CEO of Michigan Science Center
  • ADULT. feat. Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller (
  • St. Joseph Chaldean Choir
  • Bryan Pope, electric guitar
  • Jonathan Muir-Cotton, electric bass
  • Efe Bes, african drummer
  • Matthew Calbert, Khalik White, Taquiyyah Williams, and Laila Hamilton, beatmakers from YouthVille Detroit


Thoughts on Symphony in D

By Tod Machover
September 2015

I first thought of the idea of creating a sonic portrait of a city through collaborating with its citizens when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra approached me about a commission in 2012. I was inspired by that request to think about how the real sounds of the city could be combined with – and transformed into – a musical discourse of notes, rhythms and colors, and how sharing the composition process with everyone might help close the gap between the mystery of musical creation and the pleasure of listening (a gap which seems to be growing, not shrinking, in the age of social media). I truly enjoyed working with the Toronto Symphony to develop this model of community composition and we presented A Toronto Symphony in March 2013, followed later that year by Festival City for Edinburgh, Scotland, then Between the Desert and the Deep Blue Sea for Perth, Australia (2014) and most recently Eine Sinfonie für Luzern for Lucerne, Switzerland (2015). Through each of these projects, we learned how to establish community dialogue through “listening” to a city, how to bring people from diverse backgrounds together through sound and music, and how to create a symphony that is both rich for its process as well as for its musical result.

None of these previous experiences, however, prepared me for the excitement and power of creating a collaborative city symphony here in Detroit. Symphony in D came about because Dennis Scholl – then head of arts at the Knight Foundation – heard about the Toronto project and arranged to attend the premiere of Festival City at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival. Dennis felt strongly about bringing the project to the U.S. and proposed that we think about Detroit, because of the incredible dynamism of the city as well as the adventurous spirit of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Fortunately, the DSO was interested, so together we planned the project during spring and summer 2014 and launched publicly last November. Since then, the community response has been simply overwhelming, from the generous sharing of sounds, to numerous exploration and improvisation sessions of making music together, to listening to unforgettable stories and memories, and to meeting some of the most imaginative, independent, visionary, and passionate people on the planet. To me, it feels as if Detroit was the place I had had in mind – without knowing it at the time – when I first imagined these City Symphonies.

We launched the project last November with an invitation to the public to record and share favorite, most indelible sounds of Detroit, and with my colleagues at the MIT Media Lab, we created a special smartphone app – conveniently called Symphony in D – to make this as easy as possible. Recorded sounds were also automatically marked by geographical location, and a growing “sound map” of the city emerged which the community could listen to, comment on, and recombine into soundscapes using another app we created called “Constellation.” Over the following months, we received far more sound submissions from Detroit citizens than in any other city so far: iconic sounds from the People Mover to sporting events (winning or losing:); personal sounds like stirrings in someone’s backyard to a child’s music practice session; mechanical sounds from automobile assembly plants to metal sculpture workshops; nature sounds from boating at Belle Isle to wandering in a blizzard; to cars, cars and more cars, from historic to most recent models, lovingly recorded zipping by on a city street or Grand Prix raceway to meticulously recorded from the driver’s seat or from under the hood. Many of these sounds were sent to us by individuals, but – unlike in the other cities we have visited – some were recorded by groups such as Ringside Media and Doner, that went way beyond the call of duty to help share special aspects of the city they love. And I also spent much time in Detroit exploring many corners of the city, listening and recording, and then re-experiencing back at MIT, or in my 18th-century barn studio in Waltham, Mass.

Beyond the actual sounds of Detroit have been the amazing people I have met here this year, from kids at Detroit Achievement Academy, to senior residents of American House, to musicians at the DSO, to teens studying beat-making and DJ-ing at YouthVille, to entrepreneurs, poets and performance artists, civic leaders, urban gardeners, and musicians of the most diverse backgrounds, styles and instrumentations. I have found that people in Detroit – whether they have been there for generations or have arrived recently from near and far – are deeply devoted to the city’s rich and proud history, are thoughtful and articulate about its many conflicts and problems, and are energized and optimistic about building a future based on creativity, community and collaboration.

It is thanks to these amazing people that the “story” of Symphony in D has taken shape over these past months. I have listened to this multitude of sounds and have attempted to craft a work that juxtaposes the many – sometimes reinforcing, other times wildly conflicting – rhythms of the city which alternatively mesh and clash, that listens to the beauty of melody often rising resolutely from the bass, that acknowledges the importance of voice and the word in this city of talking and writing, and that seeks to express this particular, special moment in Detroit’s history when anything seems possible although the stakes are very high indeed. As I write these notes in mid-September, I am putting the finishing touches on this composition while also keeping open the conversation with my colleagues at the DSO and my friends in the community about precisely how all these diverse forces should be balanced, how the many sounds should be “tuned,” how the emotional arc of the composition should be carefully crafted, and how the ending must be uplifting but also complex, just like the richly rewarding work-in-progress that Detroit is at this moment.

And as I had always hoped would happen when I first envisioned this concept of City Symphonies, I believe that Symphony in D feels both like my composition – something in which I have invested heart and soul, imagination and craftsmanship for over a year – and our composition to which so many have contributed, and which has evolved through brainstorming, workshopping, and consistently invigorating iteration.

I believe that together we have captured something essential, important, and moving about Detroit through sound and through music, and I hope that you will agree when you hear the premiere of Symphony in D in November.

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