Weekend Digging #4
Squarepusher × Z-MACHINES
In 2013, a team of Japanese roboticists was assembled with the challenge of creating a music-performing system that was beyond the capabilities of the most advanced musicians - Z-Machines were the result. The roboticist’s musical producer, Kenjiro Matsuo, and his team, invited a number of Japanese composers as well as Squarepusher to develop music specifically for the project.
The opportunity to explore the compositional possibilities of a guitarist with 78 fingers and a drummer with 22 arms was a temptation impossible to ignore. The resulting ‘Sad Robots Goes Funny’ was a poignant and highly praised piece, composed and produced by Squarepusher and performed by Z-Machines. The video produced by award winning director, Daito Manabe, can be seen above.
The rapport that developed between Squarepusher and the Japanese team led to a lingering feeling that the project still had unexplored potential. Squarepusher approached Matsuo-san with a view to further investigating the possibilities of the collaboration. This led to additional pieces being created, involving an intense four weeks of composing, then two more months of transferring and adapting data, various technical hurdles and the eventual recording of ‘Music For Robots’.
Squarepusher on the EP:
“In this project the main question I’ve tried to answer is ‘can these robots play music that is emotionally engaging?’
I have long admired the player piano works of Conlon Nancarrow and Gyorgy Ligeti. Part of the appeal of that music has to do with hearing a familiar instrument being ‘played’ in an unfamiliar fashion. For me there has always been something fascinating about the encounter of the unfamiliar with the familiar. I have long been an advocate of taking fresh approaches to existing instrumentation as much as I am an advocate of trying to develop new instruments, and being able to rethink the way in which, for example, an electric guitar can be used is very exciting.
Each of the robotic devices involved in the performance of this music has its own specification which permits certain possibilities and excludes others - the robot guitar player for example can play much faster than a human ever could, but there is no amplitude control. 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.”
Squarepusher x Z-Machines - ‘Music For Robots’ Warp Records