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CalArts robots are ready to jam

April 23, 2011 |  8:30 am

CalartsMeet “Maha-Devi Bot,” a two-headed, 12-armed performing “percussion robot” adorned with Himalayan bells, an Indian tambourine and circuit board strips, among other things. She hangs from the ceiling, suspended in midair, like a hovering, long-legged spider

“Maha,” as we’ll call her here, is not a solo artist by any stretch. She performs onstage with eight other robots, programmed for improvisation to jam with humans. There’s “Tammy,” a tall, regal-looking vertical marimba-robot with a steel Cyclops eye for a head; and “String Thing,” who’s made of skateboard wheels, steel rods and inspired by a slide guitar. He tends to sound a little panicky and nervous at times.

The cutting edge, futuristic endeavor — called KarmetiK Machine Orchestra (after karma and kinetic) — was created by Ajay Kapur and Michael Darling, both instructors at California Institute of the Arts. It combines elements of artificial intelligence/robotics, electronic music and theater. And the robots -- which were designed and built by students who play with them on customized computerized interfaces -- are ready to jam.

On May 12, the orchestra will perform a mix of world fusion, modern electronic, experimental, groove-oriented beats and Indian classical music during an immersive audio-visual installation concert.  

“It’s about new ways of making noise,” Darling says. “There’s things you can do with them that humans can’t do.” 

The upcoming performance will be fully interactive, complete with miniature ‘bots flying through the air and brightly colored, sound-activated animation dancing overhead. It’s sure to be a sonic and visual treat – in a “Frankenstein goes to his first rave” kind of way.

Read our full  Arts & Book story here.

--Deborah Vankin


Photo: The CalArts Robot Orchestra is the creation of Michael Darling, right, and Ajay Kapur and will be performing in May. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times