Here Come the Robots: Moritz Simon Geist’s Robot Orchestra

We Are the Robots: Moritz Simon Geist's Robot Orchestra

Geist at electronic tableRobot musicians have been around for a while, from Conlon Nancarrow’s crazed piano rolls to antique orchestrions right up to Pat Metheny’s famed Orchestrion Orchestra.  Ed Trimpin created turntable robots among other things. But classically trained media artist and robotic musician Moritz Simon Geist is using robots to make electronic music. He just premiered the video for “Entropy” the lead single from his upcoming debut EP “The Material Turn“, out October 12 on his Sonic Robots Records label with global distribution via Kompakt.  The EP precedes the release of Geist’s full length album, “Robotic Electronic Music“, on November 16. The EP and LP, both co-produced with Mouse on Mars, will be the first techno records played entirely by self-made futuristic robots.

Geist’s approach is more “robotic” and electronic than Metheny’s who had his guitar triggering mostly conventional instruments and in effect, sounding like the Pat Metheny Group, but with stiffer rhythms and interplay. Geist’s robots are Rube Goldberg like miniatures, little devices meant to trigger on effect. Among them are 3D-printed robo-kalimbas, tonal glasses, drone guitar, recycled hard drives, and pneumatic hi-hats.

The video is a slow build from simple rhythmic robots building a techno groove, to an increasing array of drone and percussion sounds and devices that build to an industrial climax before sputtering away, as robots do.

According to Geist, “When you listen to robots playing, you realize, that they sound precise, but in contrast to digital sounds they transport an immense organic feeling.“No beat is like the other, everything is played with actual acoustic physicality and thus actual error.  It’s industrial and organic at the same time.  The repetitive nature of the robots make it perfect for playing electronic music.”

It’s a fun piece, but I think Geist may be underestimating the nuance and expression of a real musician, whether performing or programming. Even Metheny’s Orchestrion, which really did sound like the Pat Metheny Group, albeit with a less supple drummer, revealed its faults under critical listening. However, it was a charming and inventive sound in its own right, and Metheny wrote a brilliant composition for it. This may be as well. But could using robots to create electronic music close the circle of music creation?

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