We've seen robot conductors before, even robots performing in a Wiimote ensemble, but not too many robots have been incorporated as full-fledged members of an orchestra that includes human musicians. The Karmetic Machine Orchestra does just that, and also blends electronic and world music, resulting in some unusual grooves.
The folks behind Karmetic--described as a think tank of artists and engineers exploring a digital renaissance--build robot musicians and get them to interact with human counterparts playing modified instruments like electronic sitars.
Based at California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, Karmetic is led by music supervisor Ajay Kapur, who's trained in classical Indian music, and production designer Michael Darling. Following its premiere in January (see vid below), the group is getting ready for another show at CalArts on May 13.
The laptop-driven orchestra has three custom-built robot percussionists and aims to add two more. In its debut show, it had more than 10 performers, 43 actuators, and 65 speakers. Robot drummer MahaDeviBot, for instance, plays 12 instruments including bells, finger cymbals, and gongs. It also has a bouncing Hindu goddess "face" that indicates the tempo.
The robots use sensor data to interpret gestures made by human performers in the orchestra. Apparently, they can be programmed to perform music as well as receive commands from the modified instruments played by their fellow musicians.
When the robots play without human accompaniment, the music is rather lugubrious (I can't really imagine it climbing the charts on Cybertron, but Marvin the Paranoid Android would probably love it). When human musicians and dancers join in, though, it becomes quite magical. CalArts' Walt Disney Modular Theater should be a perfect setting for the free show next week.