Music meets mechanism
Music meets mechanism
Twenty-five robotic and mechatronic musical machines will be on display in The Hub at Victoria University on Friday 11 October from noon until 5:00pm as students from both Te Koki New Zealand School of Music and the School of Engineering collaborate in a Sonic Arts and Engineering Expo.
The work is the result of a programme led by Dr Ajay Kapur, an expert in exploring human interactions with robotic musical instruments.
“By ‘robotic’ we mean that the instrument will respond to different external stimuli,” he explains “making decisions and adapting its output to its environment. All of the instruments in the expo feature sensors so that there can be some sort of interaction between the observing ‘audience’ and the machine. The participants play a role in the sound creation.”
Ajay spends one trimester in New Zealand each year teaching at both NZSM and the School of Engineering. The rest of the time he is the Director of the Music Technology Programme at the California Institute of the Arts. He is pioneering a programme in Sonic Engineering at the Kelburn Campus bringing together music and engineering students to explore the way that technology can be used creatively.
“It has been a really interesting process," he says. “The engineering students have found creative outlets for their work and the music students have learned how to realise some of their creative ideas through applied engineering. Neither of them could do it as successfully on their own. They have all had to learn to think outside the square and develop interdisciplinary skills. This exhibition really showcases the way in which these two worlds can intersect with exciting and fascinating results.”
Jim Murphy’s Swivel 2 is a case in point. Jim is a PhD student in the collaborative programme and he has conceived, experimented and built a robotic slide guitar.
“At the moment I have it mounted on a modified heated towel rail with six strings and individual fretter arms, dampers, picking arms, MIDI inputs and hand-wound pickups,” he explains. “But it is really six individual instruments and there is no reason why it couldn’t be multiplied and mounted spatially throughout a room or several rooms with the inputs and outputs daisy chained together.
“There are a few mechatronic instruments out there but I wanted something that would give composers much more flexibility and scope for creative control, for parametric expressivity. Each of the strings has its own custom made printed circuit board which I designed myself with MIDI inputs so it can receive instructions from a computer. But it is programmed to ‘listen’ to its environment too, so there is it can self-tune for example, or alter tunings during a piece of music so it might start in traditional tuning and then switch to ‘just’ intonation or a non-Western scale …”
His enthusiasm is
infectious. His creation elegant.
We look forward to hearing it and its ‘kin’ in the Hub on Friday, 11 October from noon until 5:00pm.