JUN 20, 2018 11:55 AM PDT

Watch a Robotic Orchestra Play Real Instruments

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

With AI learning musical genres and composing unique tracks, the era of machines making music is already upon us. An Italian composer and electronic music producer named Leonardo Barbadoro is experimenting with and exploring the boundaries of another kind of high-tech, mechanized musical genre: the robotic orchestra. Barbadoro, who also goes by Koolmorf Widesen, has an album-in-process called, “Musica Automata,” which is performed entirely by robots that play real, traditional instruments. The robots are controlled with the programmer/ conductor’s computer using a Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, which can enable composers, robotic musicians, and electronic and digital musical instruments to communicate and play songs.

Barbadoro's orchestra, credit: Leonardo Barbadoro

To accomplish this feat, Barbadoro has partnered with the Logos Foundation, a “research and production center for experimental music, musical robotics and audio art” in Flanders, Belgium. He is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the album, which is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

Barbadoro told Digital Trends:

I have been working on this project for a long time now. Everything started in 2011, when I was in Ghent, Belgium, to play a show, and a guy there showed me the website of the Logos Foundation. These people have built robots to play acoustic instruments for the past 20 years. It is now the largest robot orchestra in the world. I thought the whole concept was amazing and finally decided to get in touch with them in 2014.

Barbadoro visited Logos about 10 times in order to learn how the orchestra worked. As he studied, he also began to build his own robot-musicians. Barbadoro composed and recorded the first version of the “Musica Automata” album, which consists of a 10-minute composition played by 19 robots that he controls via laptop. The robots play numerous instruments, including the piano and organ, along with wind, string, and Barbadoro’s own unique, “nontraditional” instruments.

These days, with computer programs such as GarageBand, it is not difficult for an individual composer to create multi-instrument sounds and songs. However, in the crowdfunding campaign description, Barbadoro says he feels that by using real instruments and robots, “A real acoustic space is preserved.” He also thinks his mechanical crew can offer comparable performances and even healthy competition to orchestras of human musicians. He says the robots are not “limited to a mere artificial reproduction,” can introduce “new expressive possibilities,” and even have abilities which exceed those of people playing instruments.

The Logos Foundation was founded in 1968 to explore and promote innovative music. Its Robot Orchestra is the largest fully automated acoustic orchestra on Earth. Musical robots that perform for Logos can even interact with performers through gesture-recognition technology. Logos also specializes in instrument building, musical archive and documentation, audio art installations, artist residencies and music boxes. A few of its other sound-based projects include the “Singing Bicycles” and the “Howling Hometrainers.”

Article Sources:

Logos Foundation

Digital Trends

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech and conservation.
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