“There was a redheaded man who had no eyes or ears. He didn’t have hair either, so he was called a redhead arbitrarily. He couldn’t talk because he had no mouth. He didn’t have a nose either. He didn’t even have arms or legs. He had no stomach, he had no back, no spine, and he didn’t have any insides at all. There was nothing! So, we don’t even know who we’re talking about.”
The final line: “We’d better not talk about him anymore.”
The Dead Brass Band is a fully robotic orchestra. It consists of a drum section with bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle and tambourine, a wind section with two tubas, a trumpet and a melodica, and also a Hammond organ. All these instruments have been developed by Decap in Herentals. There is only a minimal difference in sound between instruments played by musicians and these midi-controlled instruments.
The instruments are all mounted separately on platforms that can move around. These platforms are guided by wireless technology and can perform choreographies. They can take up a position in space and can move around at will. It is possible to vary their speed and movements and to make them revolve. In this way they carry out a pre-programmed choreography. This hardware and software was developed by iMinds and Culturecrew.
One can truly call them ‘robots’. These moving platforms are high-tech objects, they ‘know’ their spatial position and correct themselves if they deviate from the path set for them. Though the guidance system is quite complex, the user interface is relatively simple. Some elements of this technique had already existed for industrial purposes, but this variation was so far unknown.
A Two Dogs Company developed this orchestra for the production H, an incident, in which it played the music. The starting point was a ‘ghost orchestra’, where the musicians have vanished but the instruments play on.
ATDC now wants to develop these robots / platforms / musical instruments a stage further. It is an opportunity to develop really innovative techniques that may have a potential significance in the industrial sector, and thereby contribute to the debate on the mutual links between the arts and innovation.
We want to make the platforms interact with the music, continue to stabilise the technology, etc., and also hand the platforms over to programmers to develop new software for them, or improve the existing software. In this way, the intention is to move towards an ‘open source’ software analogous to the custom in robotics of sharing as much information as possible so as to achieve a better result.
In concrete terms, ATDC would like to commission a contemporary composer to write a piece of music for these robots and make a choreography for them together with the company. The essential thing is that the musical instruments and their movements form an intrinsic part of the composition and the listening experience. We have for example noticed that when the tubas revolve it has an effect on the sounds in the space.The result is intended to be a full-fledged concert for festivals of contemporary music, museums and digital media festivals. We have in mind a concert of about an hour, with the stage occupied only by the robots, with their music and their choreography.