Sounds of Edinburgh to be used in festival symphony

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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A MAVERICK American composer is in Scotland’s capital to collect sounds of the city which will be turned into a major new piece of music at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

Birdsong, buskers, traffic and even tramworks could all end up being part of Tod Machover’s crowd-sourced work, Festival City, which he will work on until just shortly before it is premiered.

Composer Tod Machover worked with pupils from Blackhall Primary School School. Lily Ewing, 9, Shaun Azam, 9,, James Cubey, 9, and Sophie Powrie,8. Picture: Julie Bull

Composer Tod Machover worked with pupils from Blackhall Primary School School. Lily Ewing, 9, Shaun Azam, 9,, James Cubey, 9, and Sophie Powrie,8. Picture: Julie Bull

Billed as a “sonic portrait” of the city, it will be unveiled at the Usher Hall in August in a one-off show to be performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

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Members of the public are being urged to submit their own sounds, while new apps have been created to allow people to create their own sound “cauldrons” or “constellations”, which will help inspire the final work.

Submissions are open to all - from people who live in Edinburgh all year round, performers who will be visiting the city’s flagship events this summer, or even previous visitors to the city who hold a special memory.

A key aim of the piece, which Machover is expected to still be working on until the festival gets underway August, will be Edinburgh’s relationship with its summer festivals.

Sonic portrait

Contributions of up to 20 seconds will be encouraged until then via the festival’s website, as well as on its Facebook and Twitter pages.

Machover, who is based at the acclaimed Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is renowned in music technology circles as “the godfather of Guitar Hero”.

He was commissioned to produce a brand new work for the EIF after working on a similar project for the city of Toronto earlier this year.

He told The Scotsman: “We did the project in Toronto over a year and it was a much longer piece, a symphony which was around 35 minutes long.

“The principles are the same in Edinburgh, but the idea is to make a one-movement piece which will be a sonic portrait of the city.

“I’ve come to this with a particular thought about the city, so I’m not starting from nowhere.

“What jumps out to me about Edinburgh is that on the one hand you can stand up on top of Calton Hill, and because of the geography, the size of the city and its image you can get a king of total feeling of the city.

“But at the same time it is probably a city with more contrasts than anywhere else, but they are not apparent at first.


“There are the Old and the New Towns, and the nature that is all around a really intense city centre.

“There is the whole beauty and sophistication of Edinburgh, but the there is also a whole underground city - of Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jekyll and Hyde, and all that.

“It is a much more mysterious city than it appears at first and that is part of the interest in it for me. Like any great city, it is more fascinating the way you look.”

Machover has spent several days exploring different parts of the city, including Arthur’s Seat, the New Town and Portobello beach, as well as working with local schoolchildren and the musicians from the RSNO, who will be performing the final piece.

It will be part of a two-part show, with the other, all-American part of the performance partly inspired by the movies of cult film director David Lynch.

However, despite the city’s notoriously late-running tram project, and the impression of never-ending roadworks, Machover admitted the city was much quieter than he was expecting.

Calm city

He added: “I had set Sunday aside to go around the city to make a number of recordings myself. I was all over the city.

“I didn’t realise that the Edinburgh Marathon and the Scottish Cup Final would be on, but the thing that struck me was how calm the city was, it wasn’t crazy at all. It felt gentle to me.

“An interesting thing for me is that the general noise level in the city is very low, although you do hear traffic everywhere. And it was the level of building works, rather than roadworks, that I noticed as I was going around.”

You can make your own submission to the project at the official website: