Trimpin, the kinetic musical composer-inventor and the recipient of a MacArthur genius award, has seen the orchestra and calls the work performed at CalArts groundbreaking.
“Ajay and Michael, they are among the leading forces in this country when it comes to having the facility and the knowledge for working with kinetic objects to make music,” he said by phone from Stanford University, where he was demonstrating some of the musical objects he has created.
Although the students have written the music and taught the robots to play it, the bots do get a few moments of their own to improvise. As people in an audience sway to the music in their seats, robots placed under those seats are told to lay down a beat of their choice in time to the movements. Mr. Darling likes to call that spontaneous composing by the audience’s butts.
Meanwhile, Egg Babies (so named because the robot was created partly out of plastic Easter eggs) will be working on part of the elaborate light show.
“It responds to sound,” theater arts student Lizzie Eggert said. “Depending on what kind of note it is - bass, high note, treble - it will respond with a color,” and Egg Babies gets to choose the color.
Next year they hope to create a musical with a back story set in Mumbai in the year 2050. Robots will have taken over and people will be playing electronic music.
Mr. Kapur said hopes to have the orchestra advanced enough within 10 years for a musical retelling, with animation, of the epic “Mahabharata” and “Ramayana” poems, India’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey.”
The two have no intention, though, of turning the robots loose to do their own show, even though they expect it is only a matter of time until someone does.
“We don’t want to go that far,” said Mr. Kapur, adding that’s why, unlike some other robot musicians, theirs don’t look anything like people.
“I don’t want it to go humanoid because that’s going too far,” he said. “We’re not trying to replace humans. We’re trying to enhance what humans can do with all this technology on stage.”