The Rise Of Musical Robots

They Will Soon Be Playing Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger Than Us      01/09/09

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Watching this video of Ishikawa Komuro Lab's high-speed robot hand this morning, I was amazed at how dexterous and facile robots are getting.

My first thought, on seeing this, was that high-speed robots are going to eat our faces while we sleep.

My second thought, though, was that high-speed robots are going to start eating up musician's jobs.

When you see the the robot dribbling a ball once every 100 milliseconds, spinning a pen at high speeds or picking up a grain of rice with tweezers in a wave of the hand, it's not hard to imagine that robots like this may soon be able to create musical gestures more accurately, more quickly and more repeatably than humans.

Some robots are already doing this, if on a limited scale.

Here's Toyota's violin playing robot:

Far from virtuosic - but better, already, than many 2nd year human players.

Here's a robotic trumpet player:

Here's something less obvious - the LEMUR GuitarBot, playing Emergency Bot TV Theme.

Still think that robots won't be gigging before long?

Consider this: these days, it's rare to see a musical performance that doesn't involve drum machines, sequencers or computers.

How much more interesting would these performances be, if the sequenced synths were replaced with a robot that could actually play incredibly fast or syncopated or repetitive lines?

And what if a DJ could scratch a record and have it control a robotic drummer playing the Amen Break?

Like it or not, musical robots are on the rise. The idea of them replacing some human musicians isn't science fiction - it's something we can clearly see coming.

We already know that computers can beat us at chess.

Do you think we will see a day when robots can beat us at music?

James Lewin
Twitter @podcasting_news

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