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based on a scanner or inkjet printer head. Throughout 2009, I completely
redesigned the GuitarBot to create Model 2.0. Its design is informed by the
six intervening years of robot building experience. It is more roadworthy,
maintainable, quieter, and reproducible compared to the original, as well as
having additional features.”
How are your robots different from the first water-powered automatic
organs from ninth century Baghdad?
“They are a continuation of a long tradition of people’s fascination with
and creation of automated musical instruments. Obviously, ours take
different forms than these and use electricity instead of water power. But
the broad concept is the same.
Automated instruments open up a world of new musical possibilities,
whether they are water organs, player pianos, computer-driven synthesizers,
or LEMUR robots. They allow humans to create music in ways that are
unconstrained by human playing ability. This is not to say that robots and
automated instruments are better or worse than human musicians — just
that they are different, can be used in different ways, and produce different
results. I believe that any technology — analog, digital, mechanical, or other
— that opens up new musical possibilities is a good thing.”
How long does it take for you to build a music robot?
“This is highly dependent on the complexity of the instrument. Some of
our mechanisms — such as the ModBots (modular percussion robots) — are
specifically designed to be as simple and reproducible as possible. In a day, I
can crank out a few dozen drum beaters and turn them into instruments.
I’ve already created driver boxes that control up to 30 ModBots of various
varieties (beaters, shakers, scrapers, etc.). Then, it’s just a matter of plugging
them in and configuring the box through menu-based software created in
the application “Max”.”
What can you tell me about your robot guitars?
Each unit generally consists of four independent, single-stringed electric
slide guitar-like units (four is an arbitrary but useful number of strings ...
could be more or less). Each unit consists of a 3” x 36” aluminum plate with
robotics, an electric guitar string, picking and damping mechanisms, and a
custom microprocessor-based control board. Each unit converts MIDI
messages into the signals necessary to control the robotics and play the
For musicians and composers, their process is much the same as
working with synthesizers or samplers. They simply send MIDI data, and the
firmware on the microprocessors takes care of all the details to convert this
into music from the instruments.” “One of my philosophies for the group
has been to get the instruments out into the world and utilize them in as
many contexts as possible. To this end, we play concerts with a diverse
roster of musicians who compose for and perform live with the robots; we
do interactive installations in museums; we build custom instruments for
other musicians — Pat Matheny commissioned over 40 LEMUR instruments
and mounted a world tour with them in 2010 — and we collaborate with
artists of all disciplines — music, visual, dance, theater, etc. — to create new
works for the instruments.”
I hope this interview with Eric stimulates you to think of how you could
apply your knowledge of mechatronics to your other interests, whether that
includes music, photography, kite flying, or other seemingly unrelated
activities. Eric certainly has me thinking of robotics with a new spin.
SERVO 06.2010 7