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Apple and the Rise of the Machines: Don't worry, they're just here to rock


Whenever I heard "robots" and "Los Angeles" used in the same sentence, I thought of only one thing: the end of the freaking world as we know it. But all that's changed after I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at a current rise of a group of machines happening at a company called KarmetiK, and what I saw there literally rocked me.

If you're into Macs and music and live in the LA area, I've got a treat for you. The world premiere of The Machine Orchestra will take place at REDCAT Theater in downtown LA on Wednesday, January 27th at 8:30pm. If you're in the area, I highly recommend you check it out.

What is a machine orchestra, you ask? Imagine a crate full of Apple computers, musical instruments, Terminators, and cutting edge technicians and musicians. Now take that crate, shake it up, and spill it out onto a stage. What you're left with is a group of robotic machines that play musical instruments alongside human artists – all controlled by software written for and running on Macs.

The Machine Orchestra is the brainchild of Ajay Kapur, Director of Music Technology at CalArts who wanted to breathe new technological life into the instruments and music normally found playing in traditional World Music ensembles.

Students from the emerging Music Technology program at CalArts will not only play alongside audio pioneers like Perry Cook and one of the most famous North Indian Classical musicians, Aashish Khan, but alongside robots as well. Man and machine work together to give the listener not only an auditory experience of the fusion between electronic and world music, but a visual one as well.

Electronic music is computer-based by its very definition. The audience can't see the instruments used to create the original sound. What's so cool about The Machine Orchestra is that it allows for the creation of electronic music using actual instruments controlled via Macs, all in front of a live audience.

On the robot front you've got three stars: GanaPatiBot - a drum robot with multiple solenoid systems for striking. The back of GanaPatiBot is a "propeller Leslie system", where two speakers are placed at either side of a spinning bar, which plays sounds and drones from an iPod Mini. MahaDeviBot is another drum robot with the ability to strike 12 different percussion instruments gathered from around India, including frame drums, bells, finger cymbals, wood blocks, and gongs. MahaDeviBot even has bouncing head which can portray tempo to the human. Last but not least is (the simply-named) Tammy. Standing at six feet tall, Tammy plays instruments including the hand-crafted marimba, drone string, and bells.

All the music and robots are performed and controlled via custom controllers and modified instruments like Arduinome and MLGI. "The ensemble is really an Apple powered beast, with over 10 performers (including our robotic counterparts) running on Apples," says Jordan Hochenbaum, one of the musicians in the show, who is currently a PhD student in Sonic Arts at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

"We mostly use Macbook Pros, although there is one Macbook, and we also have an iMac server which sends out 'sync' signals to keep everyone's Macs and robots in time with each other. We wrote custom client/server software to help address some sync issues we had using standard sync from our music software, Ableton Live."

Wednesday is going to be a big day for the Mac if that rumored tablet appears. If you're in LA, why not go out and celebrate by rocking to a bunch of Mac-controlled machines? Besides, when was the last time you saw a robot play a killer drum beat? Let's see the T-800 do that.

Tickets can be bought here for $20 general admission/ $16 students.

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