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11/18/08
Robots Gone Wild
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If you’re in a roomful of professional musicians and you want to watch the cumulative blood pressure level spike, just question the assumed wisdom that live music by professional musicians is preferable to canned music. The agita is understandable—these are people worrying about their livelihoods, after all—but the fact remains that despite the many technology innovations of the past decades, so far a substitute for real, trained musicians has yet to be found.

Still, human nature being what it is, there’s always somebody trying to come up with a way to find a robot or other non-human to replicate live musicians. As I wrote about in an earlier blog, this is not a new question: back in the 1920s George Antheil used player pianos in his Ballet Mécanique, which got a revised performance at the 3LD Technology Center back in June using Disklavier technology. And a few weeks ago at Bargemusic in Brooklyn, there was a face-off between the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra—a group of live musicians led by Markand Thakar—and something called the Fauxharmonic Orchestra, a creation of Paul Henry Smith that utilizes digital samples and a Wii-mote wireless controller and pressure-sensitive platform. The two ensembles played competing versions of Matthew Quayle’s Gridley Paige Road, and as Steve Smith reported in his The New York Times review, it was sort of like pitting chef Bobby Flay against a George Foreman grill. The Baltimore Sun has a fun feature at its website where you can listen to samples and guess which one is the Fauxharmonic, and which isn’t.

Meanwhile, the robot madness continues. Toyota has created an engineering “marvel” that plays trumpet. There’s also a robotic violinist:

A robotic flutist playing “The Flight of the Bumblebee”:

And lastly a whole band of them:

Yipes. It all puts me in the mood to watch the Stepford Wives again.

  • Paul Henry Smith

    Actually, the Times was wrong. The Bargemusic concert was a face-off between live, trained musicians — one was playing a digital instrument while the other was conducting an orchestra. There were no robots and nothing at all robotic. Steve simply misspoke when he called the Fauxharmonic a computer program. It’s not.

  • http://americanorchestras.org Jennifer Melick

    Sorry to hear about the Times error. No, the Fauxharmonic isn’t a robot, or robotic. I guess a more accurate description would be that it’s yet another new way to create music than the standard “conductor plus assembled orchestra musicians onstage” model.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.