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Musical robots to fill the future with acoustic music

A PhD graduate in Sonic Engineering from the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University of Wellington finds the future should be filled with dulcet tones of mechanical musicians.

He believes that developing musical robots that can listen to themselves play is helping to realise a future filled with unique acoustic music.

As reported, the mechanical musicians can be miniaturised, computer-controlled musical robots for the doorbell or an appliance or a full orchestra of these automatons playing in unison.

The researcher is not looking to improve on the loudspeaker-dominated world currently being lived in, but he wishes to return to an era of purely acoustic sound.

In the pre-digital past, many items like toys, appliances, doorbells and ornaments used real acoustic sound-objects, but were generally superseded by loudspeakers for flexibility.

While people would not necessarily replace their living-room stereo systems with a band of musical robots in the future, there is a lot of potential to replace many of the loudspeaker-filled items with robotically actuated acoustic alternatives that will sound much better.

The composer was able to invent a technology with the use of closed-loop techniques. This enables the robots that he designs and builds to “pick up when they are tuning, calibration or latency is drifting or out and correct it while they are performing”.

It addresses one of the key barriers to adoption of musical robots currently, which are their unreliability and the need for a lot of maintenance and babysitting by a technician.

The composer is no stranger to such robot-wrangling as he made his first musical robot, which is a Gamelan-playing automaton in 2010.

There he discovered the satisfaction of writing music and hearing it played instantly with a real musical instrument.

But his interest in the field dates back to 2001 when an experimental musician used a robotic piano to create music that had the precision and complexity of electronic music with the natural organic feeling of acoustic sound.

The composer did not have to ability to create such instruments back then so he studied in the Netherlands and became involved with a vibrant community of musical hardware creators and hackers that opened his mind to the possibilities of DIY interface design.

Working with a musical robot is very freeing because in many cases it is possible to create music with unlimited polyphony.

They are able to play up to 100% of the notes of the instrument at the same time and at super-human speeds.

The public’s appetite for music played by robotic musicians may still be developing, but the appearance of the robots in concerts will become more prevalent as the technology develops and becomes more accessible.

Much of his research has focused on making gains in these areas. Hopefully, the technology will inspire others to take up the topic, making musical robots as easy to use and accessible as other commercial musical technology is today.

It may just bring forth a future full of amazing acoustic music facilitated by musical robots.


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