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A robot made one of last year’s best classical music recordings
Scientists have spent the last few decades dreaming up new ways to make robots our slaves – and they’re getting better at it – but it’s not just menial tasks and manual labour that can be conquered by machines. In fact, with a little guidance, our robot buddies can go beyond being mere helpers, and even create works of art of their own.
Look no further than s_traits for proof, an album of contemporary classical music produced using a piece of software that sorted and made sense of 110 hours of audio files, condensing it all down into a tidy 26-song album. It’s not just a bit of keyboard button bashing we’re talking about here either – the album was named one of the best classical recordings of 2014 by experts at the New York Times.
The project was helmed by musician John Supko and media artist Bill Seaman, who together built a massive library of sounds over a period of three years – from piano parts and field recordings to cassette tape fuzz and clips from 60s documentaries. The computer program then began digging through this database using a complex algorithm, pulling out any striking melodies, rhythms and grooves that it finds. Finally, Supko and Seaman shaped the results into more conventional song lengths to create the finished album, which you can hear below;
“Well, since we had this huge database of musical material, we thought that there were bound to be lots of musical possibilities that we would never discover on our own,” said Supko, speaking to Noisey. “It’s a pretty involved process to go through samples, select the ones to work with then start slicing, dicing and recombining. Obviously, this is how humans create music and there’s nothing wrong with it, but we just wanted to find a way to generate lots of possibilities very, very quickly.”
Supko, though, is not letting his robot take all the credit, describing it as a collaborator rather than a computer that could eventually replace human beings. He would say that.
“I think that computers have the potential for suggesting creative possibilities that humans might not see or consider on their own,” he continued. “This has to do with certain assumptions we make when we’re working. We assume X or Y will not work or be worth pursuing because of A or B reason, so we move in a different direction. But what if we could actually try out X or Y (and hundreds of other possibilities) and then make a decision?”
Supko and Seaman’s program is clever enough to help them create critic-approved classical music, but it’s role is almost more clerical than it is creative. When it comes to musical robot performers, then, take a look at this lot.
Don’t like classical music? Try these robot rock bands instead;
It’s not everyday you see a robot with genuine rock star swagger, but these three have it in spades. Speaking of spades, here they are performing Motorhead’s classic, featuring a guitarist wearing cowboy boots and a bassist which appears to be sitting in a tank.
Compressorhead’s biggest rivals in the robot battle of the bands is Japan’s Z-machines, who play a somewhat more out-there style of progressive metal. Look out for the vocals in the above video, and the drummer who isn’t easy to miss – he’s the one at the back with four arms.
The flying robot orchestra
Finally, although not strictly a rock band, drones are getting in on the live music circuit as well. This drone collective is mainly known for their cover versions, performing a collection of hits including ‘Star Spangled Banner’, ‘Carol of the Bells’ and, appropriately, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.