Sparkler was composed in Spring and Summer of this year. It was designed to be the opening work of our Toy Symphony – a collaboration between myself, my team at the MIT Media Lab, and orchestras and children around the world – that premieres in Europe in Spring 2002 and comes to the U.S. next season. A simple, sinuous melody weaves throughout the piece, beginning and ending in calmness, but rapidly and delicately undulating along the way. This melody varies continuously – pulling in its wake tiny fragments of remembered classical and popular tunes; expanding into more and more intricate textures; and finally being subsumed in a series of dense sonic masses at the work’s culminating moment. Sparkler explores many different relationships between orchestra and technology, sometimes contrasting the two worlds, sometimes complementing one with the other, yet at other times blending the two into a new whole. Three keyboards – each with a specially designed controller for shaping timbre and articulation – play and modulate much of the electronics. Unlike many previous works where only solo instruments are amplified or electronically processed, in this piece microphones capture the entire orchestral sound, which is analyzed live into "perceptual parameters" through software written by Tristan Jehan at MIT. These instrumental sound masses – which are performed with a certain freedom by players and conductor – generate and control (pushing, pulling, twisting, and morphing) complex electronic extensions, turning the whole ensemble into a kind of "hyperorchestra".
Sparkler is dedicated to the victims of the September 11th atrocities; and to children worldwide who - through their generosity, open-mindedness, sense of humor, and unbridled imagination – can help the rest of us heal, regain our courage, and move forward with renewed energy, enthusiasm, and compassion.
Tod Machover, September 2001
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer