Submit material for Tod Machover’s Edinburgh 2013 commission Festival City


Earlier this year I blogged about a special commission for Edinburgh 2013 – a crowd-sourced collaborative work entitled Festival City devised by Tod Machover.

Fortunately, I don’t need to explain what Festival City is, because composer Tod Machover has recorded a video about it. Watch it. He’s lovely, not least because it’s a joy to hear an American pronounce ‘Edinburgh’ as ‘Edinborough’.

The time has come for anyone interested in contributing to the project to flex their creative muscles and submit their own individual creations into Tod’s big composer’s Cauldron and then collaborate with others who have contributed in the sister app Constellations.

It’s not difficult especially. You don’t need a degree in composition studies. You also don’t need to have prior experience of writing a tune or four-part harmony. All you need is a computer, an internet connection, the ability to let yourself go and a little patience.

Machover’s web-based Cauldron application is the kind of thing you’d peer at inquisitively at somewhere like the Science Museum, before poking or stroking it to see what happens. It’s straightforward to use and the creative process is unexpectedly absorbing.

Make sounds, upload them and contribute to Tod Machover's Festival City
Make sounds, upload them and contribute to Tod Machover’s Festival City

Ten tips for using Cauldron

1. Put your headphones on. Turn up the volume.
2. Run your mouse pointer up and down the multi-coloured traffic lights on the left.
4. Drag one traffic light into the main panel, then drag it around the screen.
5. Try different speeds to get different intensities of sound. Marvel at the visuals.
6. Drag other colours in.
7. Drag them all around at varying speeds and create a cacophany of sound.
8. Record by clicking the record button top-right,then drag your colours around again.
9. Finish recording by clicking the pause button. Playback by clicking play.
10. To the right of the play button, is an upload button. Upload your creation with an ID .



A few more tips for Constellation

1. Follow the links to Constellation at the end of the Cauldron experience.
2. Be patient – the audio takes a bit of time to load – maybe a minute or two.
3. Click on the pencil tool and draw a line through the map of sounds already submitted.
4. Listen to the soundscape created – it is quite a hypnotic process.
5. When you happen with your mini-score, click on the upload button.
6. Sit back, relax and crack open a beer.


Sort-of Nerdy Stuff

I like the simple, old-school web interface design to both apps, in part because it has a raw ‘research and development’ feel to it and also because the limited functionality means there isn’t too much which can go wrong when creating stuff for the project. If you can’t make it work, there’s always the comparatively older-school way of submitting material via Soundcloud, more here.

I also really appreciate not having to give my email address or being forced to create a login in order to submit stuff. As a user, that makes me feel as though attention is focused squarely on what is being asked for: a contribution from the public, rather than an opportunity to build a email address database for future marketing campaigns.

Not having an update Twitter/Facebook option for as part of the submission process in Cauldron reflects a sense of respect for the user, although I wonder whether offering it at that stage in the crowd-sourcing process might help increase exposure for the project (assuming that exposure is a goal).

That said, seeing and hearing my finished mini-score was a joy to behold both visually and aurally (in my humble opinion) and having the option to share the finished project on Twitter was appreciated. If you’re interested, this was my attempt.

Overall, I’m really impressed with the project. It feels fresh and engaging and makes me really interested in hearing the finished product. Definitely something to keep an eye on. A believable crowd-sourced project which could well turn out something of considerably greater interest than most others.


Tod Machover’s Festival City is a collaboration between MIT, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Edinburgh Festival.

Sound contributions and scores can be submitted until the end of July 2013, after which Tod and his team of nerdy Elves will work tirelessly with the RSNO to finish off production of the commission ahead of a performance on Tuesday 27 August.

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