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The Festival City Project

Festival City has been an ongoing collaborative project. Read more about it here.

Festival City is a musical project pioneered by American composer Tod Machover. The project aims to create a symphonic work for the Festival that is a “sonic portrait of the city of Edinburgh in collaboration with everyone who loves or has some relationship with Edinburgh”.

Since the commissioning of the project, Festival City has gone through many phases.  One of the first stages was a call for sounds. Anyone who lives in, has been to, wants to come, or has even just heard of Edinburgh were asked to submit sounds and images that remind them of the city via SoundCloud or through a recorded phone message to the Edinburgh International Festival. The sounds submitted were uploaded to an app created by MIT Media Lab. The app, named Constellation, was available to anyone and everyone who wanted to experiment with the sounds in order to create a unique composition of their own. The city sounds could each be added, layered, minimized, and maximized to the users satisfaction. 

“Sounds that particularly stood out for Machover were those of church bells and people talking in the lobbies discussing shows they’d just seen, as well what he describes as an ‘indie rock band of traffic’, where each of the cars stood out like soloists, rather than just collaborating to a single mass of traffic noise.” 
–Katie Collins (

To add even another layer to the collaborative aspect of this musical journey, the pieces created by the app users were then in turn used by Tod to write a symphonic composition to be performed in the Edinburgh International Festival. The musical work will be performed at the Usher Hall by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conducted by Peter Oundjian on 27 August.

Inspired by the initial project, Tod and MIT Media Lab created a second app named Cauldron. Cauldron was launched at TechCube and elaborates on the Constellation app by allowing users to “stir” the sounds like a...cauldron! During the launch in May, Tod visited local schools allowing children in Edinburgh to be among the first to explore the apps!

In July, Tod was accompanied by pianist Tae Kim in a special live online streaming event on The Guardian website in collaboration with MIT Media Lab and the Edinburgh International Festival. For one hour, participants from around the world could interact with Tod and Tae by rearranging the most frequently performed sounds of music throughout the history of the Edinburgh International Festival.  As participants used or favoured specific sounds, Tae would improvise brief pieces incorporating them. Participant Mike Fraser tweeted it was, “fascinating to hear the discussion between Tod Machover and Tae Kim as the live session progresses”.  Tod simultaneously compiled the sounds into pieces rearranging the way the sounds overlapped and coexisted. At the end of the live stream, a 3 minute piece of music was distilled from the process to be used as during the concert in August.

Now, in the final phase of this overarching collaborative musical scheme, Festival City’s creator Tod Machover and the MIT Media Lab have created another way for you to participate and even potentially win tickets! Using the new app Cauldron Connector, you will listen to a short clip from the actual symphonic piece. Your challenge will be to try and recreate the clip by linking individual sounds together. Submit the correct sequence of sounds, and you’ll be entered into a drawing. One winner will be selected to receive two free tickets to both the lecture/demo and the premiere of Festival City in City Noir on Tuesday 27 August at 8.00pm, performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

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