July 31, 2009 / 1:23 AM / 8 years ago

Drum roll for the first robotic gamelan orchestra

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - What do you get when you cross a cyborg with a set of ancient Indonesian musical instruments? GamelaTron, of course.

A love for music and a fascination for robotics prompted Brooklyn men Eric Singer and Taylor Kuffner to come up with the idea to build to the world’s first fully robotic gamelan orchestra.

Modeled after traditional Balinese and Javanese gamelan orchestras, GamelaTron is the result of a collaboration between the Brooklyn-based League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) and Kuffner, a composer.

“The GamelaTron is a collection of Indonesian instruments, known as a gamelan. We add the add the ‘tron’ to it and that becomes an electronic version of the gamelan,” said LEMUR founder Eric Singer.

Gamelan music dates back to the 13th century, and includes a variety of instruments including metallophones, xylophones, drums, gongs and chimes.

Some of the instruments featured in GamelaTron are up to 100 years old - but there’s a modern twist: they’re played by robots.

“What we have is 117 mechanical arms which are essentially mallets that are networked together and controlled from a laptop. So there’s no humanoid-looking robot behind it, it’s a network of mechanical arms,” Kuffner said.

Singer said a micro-processor or a very small computer was at the core of every instrument, or every group of instruments, that interpreted musical signals that might come from a computer, a keyboard or some other type of musical electronic instrument.

That microprocessor then controls electrical impulses that go to various electro-mechanical devices.

“Those might be motors or they might be solenoids which are devices we use in a lot of our instruments. A solenoid is an electromagnet that basically is like an electromagnetic plunger and what it does is it enables us to make a lever and that lever is used to hit a drum or a chime,” he said.

While robots are nothing new, having replaced humans on assembly lines to produce anything from cars to computer chips, the concept of musical cyborgs has left some scratching their heads, according to Singer.

“When I tell people what I do, there’s usually a kind of a pause and maybe a turn of the head ... and a ‘What exactly does that mean?”

“Some people get excited when they hear robot they think it’s going to be R2-D2 or C3-PO behind the Gamelan with 800 arms,” Kuffner laughed/

Like any emerging artist, GamelaTron is busy getting its music ‘out there’, and slowly building a fan base. It’s already performed at more than a dozen venues throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maryland since its creation last year.

Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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