British Columbia

Robotic trio make musical debut in Vancouver

A band made up of a piano, a drum set and a marimba — and without any musicians — will debut in Vancouver on Monday night at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts.

'It looks like they're magically playing on their own,' says project's creator

Arne Eigenfeldt, professor of contemporary arts at Simon Fraser University, is showcasing his musical machines in Vancouver at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts. (CBC)

A band made up of a piano, a drum set and a marimba — and without any musicians — will debut in Vancouver on Monday night at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts.

The trio of instruments look like regular acoustic instruments but have mechanical attachments controlled by software that autonomously generates music.

"It looks like they're magically playing on their own," said the project's creator, Simon Fraser University professor Arne Eigenfeldt. 

"The cymbals are being struck, the drums are being struck, the 34 arms on the marimba are striking the marimba and the piano is magically playing on its own, but it is the software that's controlling it." 

Eigenfeldt says he has no idea what kind of music the software will generate in the moment as it's the software making the decisions.

International artists and performers are in Vancouver for the concert where the robotic instruments will be performing. Six different software systems will be featured at the show and some listen to a live performer and try to determine what the musician is doing and respond accordingly.

"My system is a compositional system" said Eigenfeldt, "It's creating compositions on the spot."

Daryl Jahnke, an improvisational guitar player from Vancouver's jazz music community, will be part of Monday's performance. He'll be able to look at a screen that's displaying chord information from the robotic instruments in order to respond with his own improvisations and be part of the creative composition.

Eigenfeldt says he's interested in creating systems that sound as human as possible.

"I'm not interested in using machines to do things humans can't do. I'm much more interested in having them execute ideas that the machine is coming up with in relationship to human performers."

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled Robotic three-piece music band.

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