Friday, April 13, 2012

Music Machine

Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." With that in mind, Samsara, by the Karmetik Machine Orchestra, probably has a little bit of magic for everybody. Directed by Ajay Kapur and Michael Darling, it runs one more night at REDCAT.

Here's their promo video:

The first thing to notice is the robots playing live instruments, being controlled by modified Monomes. Other highlights include a "lion" in a sparkly gold outfit and wig that Rum Tum Tugger would die for - that same lion is equipped with accelerometer/gyroscope sensors, reminiscent of Pamela Z, and speakers on her body. There are North Indian instruments blending with the mechanical orchestra. There is also animation by Jason Jahnke, which I would describe as a cool blend of Ron HaysJohn Whitney, Sita Sings the Blues, and Tron.

If nothing else, Trimpin is in the house. TRIMPIN:


At times I imagined a collaboration between Laxmikant Pyarelal and Kraftwerk. Four electronic musicians stood above three sitting musicians playing live Indian instruments, accompanied by one lonely bass player, exiled to his own tiny riser island. There were so many glowing Macbook logos on stage (everyone had their own, one musician even double-fisting them), that I felt an Apple or Monome sponsorship should be in order.

I also thought several times of Tabla Beat Science, Bill Laswell's collaboration with amazing Indian musicians like Zakir Hussain and Trilok GurtuWalter Kitundu also came to mind. Lazily cataloguing other mixtures of Indian music and electronica, I immediately thought of Dan the Automator's Bombay the Hard Way and Madlib's Beat Konducta in India. I'm sure there are much more appropriate examples, but I'm blanking right now.

In terms of robotic music, a comparable project might be Pat Metheny's Orchestrion (though Karmetik's is stylistically different and less egomaniacal):

or Chris Cunningham's "Monkey Drummer" video, which is fake, made with video magic. Karmetic's is live and real. That makes it even more enticing to watch - a startling array of various solenoids and motors making a plethora of sounds that blend seamlessly with electronics and live (human-operated) instruments. No matter how novel these robotics are, it is notable that they almost never feel like mere novelty. There was definite care taken to integrate them into the performance, visually and sonically. I only wished there were some live video close-ups of the machines in actions.

Having come in just before the music began, I didn't get a chance to read the program beforehand. I felt it would have helped to latch onto what snippets of linear narrative there were. I was able to follow the storylines only when the silhouetted video narrator made her rare appearances, and only when she spoke in English (half the time?). The animation, though very nice, only rarely defined a narrative, and the live dance did little to help.

Nonetheless, it was a great experience. If nothing else, it's worth going to see all of the machines do their magic.

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