It appears that robots are becoming a part of our lives more and more, after all, they are already used for medical purposes and bomb disposal. Now, it seems that the musical world has become part of the robot club.
Compressorhead is the heaviest metal band in the world, literally. As a band, it weighs approximately 6 tonnes, but it does have the expected setup. There is the bass player, Bones, who plays to the highest precision that has ever been known. The drummer, Stickboy who was created to exact specifications has 4 arms, 2 legs and a head unsurprisingly without a brain. As the oldest member of the group, he plays a 14-piece drum kit with his son Stickboy Junior controlling the hi-hat shuffle. Then there is Fingers, the guitarist with purpose built fingers, 78 of them in fact – enough to play the entire fret board and pluck!
With the ability to party harder than any human, they tend to play well known classics from bands such as Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Nirvana and The Clash to name but a few. They have a strong following and affectionately refer to their fans as ‘Meatbags’.
It would appear that there are some warm blooded humans out there willing to develop robotic music and compose music specifically for that purpose. Expressive Machines Musical Instruments (EMMI), based in Charlottesville, Virginia is a group of composers who are pushing the boundaries of robotic music, building and composing music for robots. Their work emphasises creativity, new compositions and music that realises machine potential.
“Computer controlled mechanical instruments allow for the marriage of extreme precision and the richness of acoustically generated sound. Robotic instruments take computer music out of its traditional black box and reunite sound generation with visible physical gestures. Thus our instruments exhibit a stage presence and theatricality absent from music produced by speakers alone.”
The amalgamation of robotic music and the traditional human instrumentalists has resulted in Michael Straus, a saxophonist and Dana Jessen, a bassoonist forming EAR (Electro Acoustic Reed) an admittedly experimental duo in 2005. In 2010, they raised money for MARIE (Monochord-Aerophone Robotic Instrument Ensemble) – a series of interactive wind and string instruments from EMMI. MARIE demonstrated her ability to process different elements of music such as tempo, pitch, and tone and even improvises with other musicians.
It seems that this brave new world is a new experience for all who witness it, undoubtedly. Already, we can see the integration of robotics in music and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon either, with EMMI developing other robotic musical instruments: PAM (Poly-tangent Automatic multi-Monochord); MADI (multi-Mallet Automatic Drumming Instrument); CADI (Configurable Automatic Drumming Instrument); TAPI (Transportable Automatic Percussion Instrument).