Though Massachusetts Institute of Technology has postponed its in-person commencement ceremony, one professor devised a project to create community through music while graduates are apart.
The school contacted music technology professor Eran Egozy, who came up with the idea for “Comusica,” an audio and video project that encapsulates clips of graduating students in one cohesive song backed by an instrumental track. After his colleague Evan Ziporyn composed a 3½-minute song, Egozy solicited participation from over 800 students to sing it. “Comusica” will be unveiled to attendees of MIT’s virtual commencement ceremony on May 29.
The Globe caught up with Egozy about his work and “Comusica.”
Q. Can you tell me about how the idea for Comusica came to be?
A. I was hoping that I could do a musical project that would involve every single graduating student. How can you make something that involves every single graduating student when most of them are not musicians? The idea was to write a piece of music and ask every person to sing one note.
Q. How did graduating students contribute to the project?
A. It’s a super simple process — you can pick one of three notes and you sing that note and it would record it then we get the video. We’ve been amassing lots and lots and lots of notes. It’s been really fun to see all these great contributions. A lot of people will just sing a note, but a lot will do fun things like someone had a Pokemon on their head, some people will sing with their whole family together, and some people have done some creative stuff like one person put a robot head mask on. At any rate, we take all these notes, clean them up a bit, and do a little pitch correction, and then string them together so if you play them exactly the right way at the right time you essentially hear the song.
Q. Where does the video portion come in?
A. You will actually see all of the faces singing their note at the right time. And it’s kind of a musical journey, so it features all the students who contributed and the prominent landscapes of MIT. It’s really a piece that is meant for the students who are graduating to feel good about all the work that they’ve done and everything they’ve accomplished to arrive at this moment.
Q. Technically speaking, how will this be assembled?
A. The first step is taking an inventory of all the notes that have come in and then figuring out how to place them in time. That’s done through a lot of automation. I and another student I’m working with, Nikhil Singh, wrote a ton of custom software to manage this process of what we thought might be 1,000 notes — you don’t want to do that by hand. However, I will say I’ve listened to every single submission myself. So those all get laid out in time, and once we know where the note happens, then we can tell the video team “that’s where you should put the video of the corresponding singer.”
Q. What do you hope MIT graduates get from the video when they can’t all be together for commencement?
A. I’m an MIT alum, and I remember my graduation day very clearly, and it was a really happy day. The one thing I remember was all the people all around, there for the same purpose, which is to celebrate. What I’m hoping this piece does is create that feeling of coming together and celebrating and basically seeing everyone’s smiling, happy faces as we’ve all come to this moment to celebrate what we’ve achieved.
Interview was edited and condensed. Grace Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @GraceMGriffin.