LEMUR Revolutionizes Music

If Eric Singer had thought of creating a robot that could write newspaper articles, I’d be in real trouble right now.
As it turns out, four years ago Singer did come up with the idea of creating robots that could write. Music, that is.
Today, with the help of generous grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the New York State Council of the Arts, Singer has seen his idea turned into a reality.
On Jan. 13 Singer, along with four other organizers who make up the Brooklyn-based League of Electronic Musical Urban Roots, unveiled his musical robots at the UC Irvine Beall Center for Art and Technology. The robots that showcased their talent included the Guitarbot, Tibetbot, Forestbot and !rbot (pronounced ‘chick-r-bot’). LEMUR’s goal is to show that these robotic instruments can indeed play themselves.
Those of us who have seen ‘Bicentennial Man’ and ‘I, Robot’ have little trouble imagining a world where robots can both clean our houses and knock them down with arms that turn into bazooka guns. However, how many of us can imagine a world where a robot, essentially a computer, can compose a symphony?
LEMUR has spent the last four years creating musical robots that it hopes will eventually revolutionize the music world.
LEMUR’s robots are capable of three things. First, they can play back a straight score written by a human composer. Second, they can play in response to, or improvise with, a human musician. Lastly, they are capable of writing and then performing their own music, without a human composer or musician.
On Thursday night at the Beall Center, students milled around a room filled with rattles, hisses, pops and more than 100 10-foot-long fiberglass stems that periodically seemed to swoop down and peek over the onlookers’ shoulders as if to ask, ‘Are you enjoying the show?’
These stems were actually part of the Forestbot and were swaying and shaking in response to the music being played around the room. When accompanied with the Guitarbot, which can pick and slide the strings of four stringed units faster than any human guitarist, and the Tibetbot, which consists of six robotic arms that strike at three Tibetan singing bowls to produce various timbres, these robots clearly mean business.
Without a doubt these robots are on the road to transforming the way we see, hear and make music.
Singer described the effect he hopes his musical robots will have on the industry.
‘When the electric guitar was first invented, whole new types of music were invented. So I’d like to think that musical robots will create the same kind of musical revolution,’ Singer said. ‘Each musical instrument creates an opportunity for a new kind of music.’
Still, watching robots play instruments might be slightly unsettling for your average human musician. Some might be left wondering, ‘If robots can take my job, where does that leave me?’
Singer dismisses this idea by explaining that musical robots are meant to complement human musicians, not replace them.
‘I don’t think computers are going to replace [us],’ he said. ‘I just think they’re going to be used as a tool.’
Joe Rojas, a fourth-year drama major agrees with Singer after seeing what the instruments can do.
‘I can see why some people would think [musical robots would] be scary or threatening,’ Rojas said. ‘But I don’t think computers will ever replace human musicians.’
The musical robots will be displayed at the Beall Center until March 19. For more information, visit http://beallcenter.uci.edu.