Meet the Z-Machines, a band made entirely of robots. There’s Mach, a 78-fingered guitarist; Ashura, a 22-armed drummer; and Cosmo, a robot that plays keyboards with lasers.
When a team of University of Tokyo roboticists created the Z-Machines last year, it asked several artists to develop music the robots could be programmed to play, and the U.K.-based electronic composer was among them. His submission was a song called “Sad Robot Goes Funny,” but after it was finished Squarepusher (aka Tom Jenkinson) wasn’t done with his droid friends. He ended up writing an entire EP of material for the ‘bots called, appropriately, Music for Robots, which was released last week.
The idea, Jenkinson says, was to find out if robots can play music that is engaging emotionally, even as they pull off feats of instrumentation human hands never could. “The robot guitar player for example can play much faster than a human ever could, but there is no amplitude control,” Jenkinson says. “In the same way that you do when you write music for a human performer, these attributes have to be borne in mind—and a particular range of musical possibilities corresponds to those attributes. Consequently, in this project familiar instruments are used in ways which till now have been impossible.”