Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Orchestra conducted by robot

I read last week of an orchestra which had performed, conducted by a robot. The Detroit Symphony was led by Asimo, a 4ft 3in tall robot designed by car manufacturer Honda, as it performed 'The Impossible Dream'. Asimo was programmed to mimic the orchestra's education director as he conducted the piece in front of a pianist six months ago.

The performance wasn’t without a hitch as the robot is unable to respond to the musicians. So during early rehearsals, Asimo - which stands for Advanced Step In Innovative Mobility - slowed the tempo and robot and orchestra separated, something a human would have sensed and compensated for.

The musical director Leonard Slatkin commented, ‘It's not a communicative device; it simply is programmed to do a set of gestures.’ But bassist Larry Hutchinson said that while the movements were a little stiff, they were ‘very humanlike, much more fluid than I thought’.

I couldn't help wondering how many professional musicians, on hearing that an orchestra had been conducted by a robot thought, ‘So, what’s new?’ I suggest that it wasn’t a small number!

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