The robots are coming! New festival Wir sind die Roboter fills the Musikbrauerei with the mind-warping booming, beeping and humming only mechanical musicians can make.
The showcase is the brainchild of Marion Wörle and Maciej Sledziecki of Gamut, Inc., the experimental duo that put on the Avant Avantgarde festival of pre-20th-century experimental music back in 2012. We caught up with them as they prepared to unleash the sweet tunes of the manufactured world on Berlin (Sep 29-Oct 1).
So, why a festival dedicated to music machines?
Maciej Sledziecki: We’ve been working with music machines since 2011. I was playing guitar and Marion was playing electronics, and we met an instrumentalist who built his own machines. We collaborated with him and then started building our own machines, trying to see the connection and different set-ups. We wanted to go deeper every time. One day, we were sitting at a bar drinking wine and we said, “Wouldn’t it be crazy to bring tons of music machines to Berlin?” We kept talking until we had the first sketch of what we wanted to do.
Marion Wörle: We couldn’t find another festival that was about this exact theme. There are a lot of concerts about synthesizers and electronic gear, but not about computer-driven music machines and music robots specifically.
What are the possibilities that robots open up in music?
MS: We’re interested in going where humans normally cannot go. There are things like very fast repetitions – crazy stuff that sounds like synthesizers, but it’s all acoustic sounds.
MW: You can really play the weirdest rhythms you can think of, especially if you combine musicians and machines. You could do super simple things with the robots, like just hit one same, consistent string.
How active is the scene? What’s been going on in machine music?
MS: It’s tough to say, because the aim of what people are doing with the robots is really different, and the scene is spread all over multiple countries. There are huge companies like Toyota who have these fake massive robot ensembles. Then there are people like the Logos Foundation in Belgium, who are part of the festival. They’ve been around since the 1960s, and they say things like, “Why practice for that many hours when you can have a robot perform some stuff that human beings could never do?”
That sounds a little terrifying. Should we be nervous about machines replacing musicians?
MS: Let’s wait till the festival to answer that question. [Laughs]
MW: I personally don’t think it’s that extreme, where we’re not going to need any instruments. To us, it’s just about having another option and more variety in music. It’s a plus that we have access to all these new tools and technology to do things that are really unique. But I can understand these feelings of nervousness completely, and I think it’s really important that there is space for people who don’t want to be so much in touch with technology.
So what can we expect at the festival?
MW: We have these two great ensembles – the Logos Foundation, and Roland Olbeter from Barcelona with about 10 machines. We also thought it would be great to not just showcase the machines, but also give composers the opportunity to create music for them. It’s a situation where no one knows exactly what’s going to happen. We’ll also have theorists like Leslie Dunton-Downer, who is going to discuss the etymology of robots.
MS: We’ll also feature Sonic Robots, who come more from a pop perspective and have worked with Mouse On Mars. Pierre Bastien is making very sensory music with all these little machines he projects on the wall as shadows. It’s going be really hardcore and unusual – sometimes, there aren’t even going to be people onstage. It’ll just be the machines playing.
What do you think will come out of the festival?
MW: A lot of people working with machines are still in their own world and in their own space, so it’s nice to have the opportunity to show what others are doing.
MS: It seems since we started curating this festival, a lot of people came to us saying, “We also have a band! We do this!” There are so many people building this stuff. There is something in the air, I think.
Wir Sind Die Roboter, Sep 29-Oct 1, Musikbrauerei, Prenzlauer Berg