His father is a computer expert and his mother a pianist, so the
fact that musician Tod Machover hovers on a radical intersection
between art and technology is no surprise.
The very names of each of his projects evoke the effort to
synthesize creativity and engineering: the multimedia music project
"Brain Opera" in 1996, and now his environmental museum sound piece,
"Meteor Music," which was unveiled last month. (It is part of the
Meteorite Museum in Essen, Germany, but is available to experience on
The music can be summarized as a 45-minute work in eight
movements, with a movement for each of the museum's rooms.
Since the actual experience is determined by the pace of the
individual moving through the space, it also represents the frontiers
to which artists and technological innovations have taken society in
such a way that old labels simply fall away.
Mr. Machover points out that nobody involved with the new work
knows what to call it. "Is it a museum, a concert, or a theme
park?" he asks without offering an answer.
Conversations with artists and engineers across the disciplines
reveal that this shedding of old definitions in favor of new concepts
is the inevitable result of the marriage of art and technology.
Indeed, from the "high art" world of Machover's "Meteor Music" to
the everyday entertainment of Disneyland's newest take on
Tomorrowland in Los Angeles, it is clear that the dance between
artists and technology continues to both provoke and benefit the rest
of society, according to the University of Detroit's John
Staudenmaier, an expert on the history of technology.
He observes that the relationship between artists and technology
is crucial. Modern experience, he says, "is an exaltation of
technology," one that is reliant on progress and change. It is here,
he maintains, that the artist plays two important roles.
First, it is the aesthetic impulse that leads to the all-important
process of design innovation.
Second, and probably more fundamental for modern society, it is
the artist who gives "people the contemplative space to breathe in."
In other words, says the professor, artists help us understand who we
are and what we are doing with all the technology that surrounds us.
Companies on the cutting edge of high-tech culture continue to
recognize the fundamental importance of the first role, the artistic
John Hughes, the president of Rhythm & Hues, the high-tech
animation firm that made Hollywood's "Babe" talk, notes that while he
clearly needs up-to-the-moment technical talent, he looks for artists
"I can teach them the technology," he observes. "I can't teach
them that artistic sensibility that drives our industry."
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, whose next PBS series is devoted
to one of the master artists of this century, architect Frank Lloyd
Wright, notes that architecture is the perfect intersection of the
artistic impulse and technology. His interest in the famous designer
was sparked by the observation that "architecture is art that is
constantly acting upon all of us."
Mr. Burns observes that Wright was obsessed with new materials of
his time, experimenting with both the old and the new in an attempt
to discover the best of both.
While many who have lived in a Wright-designed house will be the
first to point out that his houses are infamous for falling apart, it
was also this constant push against the limits of his designs and
materials that produced a modern architectural masterpiece, New
York's Guggenheim Museum. …