MUSICAL ROBOTS AS HUMAN INSTRUMENTALISTS
The DOG MONKEY SHOW at the Klang Art Festival 1999 (Germany, Osnabrück) was for me a deep physical encounter with metal robot constructions, moving individually on the floor and in the sky, and producing various bizar sounds. Some robots even play the drumsets just like human instrumentalists.
The Amorphic Evolution is developped by the international team AMORPHIC ROBOT WORKS (ARW).
ARW's Artistic Director Chico MacMurtrie, describes his vision for the show. "The work is an ongoing endeavor to uncover the primacy of movement and sound. Each machine is inspired or influenced, both, by modern society, and what I physically experience and sense. The whole of this input informs my ideas and work."
"The Ancestral Path" includes more than 60 interactive and computer- controlled human and abstract machines ranging from 12 inches height to 30 feet long. As each machine comes to life, it exudes its own unique personality, and broadens the range and scope of the soundscape.The hydraulically driven "Mountain Making Machine" serves as a transformational set piece, where some of the vignettes take place.
Most of the robots are controlled by a midi-to-voltage control computer which was designed and built by Stock Plum, of Holland.
The "SBrain" computer is capable of switching 96 actuators, as well as an additional 32 polarity switching continuous motors
Closed loop feedback is achieved at the hardware level by a separate
positional feedback controller computer, also designed by Stock Plum.
This computer is used for driving such robots as the "Geck" voice box and the "Electro Drummer", which both require positional feedback to operate.
The machines are controlled by midi using MAX and Studio VISION Pro software from Opcode Systems on Macintosh computers. Both of the control computers interpret midi data and translate that information into voltage switched signals which are sent to the robots.
Long musical sequences are created and edited using Vision, which is the master sequencer for the show. Keyboards and other triggers including a Dimension Beam spacial controller are used to record sequences. They are then edited like a regular song. Live "jamming" and performance can also be accomplished while the master sequence is playing.
Some of the machines, such as Super Dog Monkey, have complex feedback signals so that they "know" where they are. These machines are controlled by custom MAX patches running on a separate computer.
The output is routed to three custom-built 'brains' that convert the midi signals to voltages to run the robots. ARW one controller bow with 112 outputs (multiple attenuators) to control about 60 machines AT ONCE. "Vision" lets you enter a custom name for each midi key on multiple keyboards (D6= phil; F#6= drunk etc). This makes it easy to see what effect a given note is supposed to have on a robot.
Big boss Chico did agree with my feedback and will be integrating dramatic voicing parts to complete the rhythmic soundscape of the music robots.
Visit the Amorphic Home Page: http://www.AmorphicRobotWorks.org
If you like to know more about Amorphic Evolution, don't forget to read: Mark RUCH, Musical Robots Attack Europe. Music and Computers, March/April 1997, p.33-39.
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