The robots are coming – Electronic music re-invented


We’ve been reporting on AI in music creation before and new steps in this direction are evolving as we speak. The latest iteration in this field comes from robotics engineer and media artist Moritz Simon Geist. Now it’s the time of the robots to enter the techno scene (again). The German producer unveils his debut EP featuring music made entirely by robots.

Hailing from Dresden, Germany, Moritz Simon Geist is clearly much more than a musician and producer. Before he was even thinking about making music or building robots, he fueled his fascination with the inner workings of machines by taking apart radios at a very young age. Yet music was always on his mind and he would later become a classically trained clarinetist and pianist. Now he also teaches on the progression of technology and society at the NYU Berlin. It’s this blend of interests that culminates in his latest project and debut EP titled ‘The Material Turn’, produced in collaboration with Berlin’s sound wizards Mouse On Mars.

After playing Mutek, CTM and Moogfest, and years of fabrications, tweaks, tests – winning also Visual Music Award 2017 and Initiative Music 2017/18 – robotics engineer and media artist Moritz Simon Geist releases world’s first techno album entirely played by real robots! Produced by Mouse On Mars’ Andi Thoma and due out in November, ‘Robotic Electronic Music’ is Moritz’ debut album, to explore and pioneer the sounds of the more than ever robotized society of nowadays.

Moritz comments: “New sounds from the future! Here I explain, which robots I used for the Techno robots video. Everything you hear and see comes from robots. No syntheziser, samplers or CGI added! We want to show a futuristic way of creating music – without synthezisers, but with robots in the real world!”

‘Robotic Electronic Music’ is pure mechanical music: precise, pneumatic patterns repeat themselves exploring the sound of mechanics, but none of its beats is like the other. The album is being preceded by an EP due out in October, inaugurating Sonic Robots Records (distributed by Kompakt), a label all about automations, mechanics and… techno.

Before the full release came to fruition, Geist’s projects ranged from robotic music performances to robotic sound installations, which have graced stages at numerous European festivals and exhibitions. He also spent much of his time building a giant TR-808 replica featuring actual instruments, a project that has become legendary among gear heads. Now after several years of building, tweaking and testing all of his DIY robotic instruments, Geist is now finally ready to unveil his original music with an official release.

In a recent interview with MM Moritz’s was asked:

What are these machines made of? Where do you get the material and what is the process like for you putting them together?

Initially I just took what I found on the scrap market, to make experimental sound machines. Old electronic parts from the street, an old piano I took apart, old vinyl players. The first MR-808, having no budget and no idea of artistic funding, had material costing around 500€. Later I acquired 3D-printers and got a lot more tools and a better workshop. Now my robots are mostly made of things I find which I like acoustically, drums, strings, metal, relays and things people give to me as a present, together with a lot of 3D-printed plastic parts and all the robotic actuators like motors, which I buy. But hey, whatever works!

What was your vision for ‘Entropy’, with both the audio and visual aspects?

I wanted a visualization of robots playing together with humans, but in a very entertaining way, and without reference, my robots for example don’t try to look like humans. I wanted the video to be understandable, and focused on the sound and aesthetic.

Then I started to work with my video filmer “cuthead” and he is a genius in telling a story and getting the video so that one can actually follow whats going on. In the end it was much different to what we planned – but it turned out great!

PRESS RELEASE AND BACKGROUND INFO:

Moritz Simon Geist, media artist and robotic musician, publishes his first record. It is the world’s first techno record played entirely by self-made futuristic robots.

All of the sounds on his records are played by robots: small motors that beat on metal, futuristic 3D-printed robo-kalimbas, salvaged parts from old hard drives that click and cut. It took Geist several years to build, tweak, test and play all his DIY robotic instruments.

His ‘Sonic Robots’ try to push the boundaries of the imaginable. He did so already in 2012 with his well-known oversized 808 robot – an iconic drum machine gotten real, 4 by 2 meter, filled with robotic parts which play the instruments live and in front of the audience.

Now, Moritz Simon Geist goes even further to discover the unknown and futuristic world of techno robotics. For this quest, he teamed up with the Berliner sound wizards from Mouse On Mars and dug deep in the history of mechanical music and experiments of early electronic music.

On the Album “Robotic Electronic Music” Moritz Simon Geist extends the futuristic approach to music making he introduced in his first EP.

The opener “Entropy” could already be found on his EP, a bassy club-track, played by robotic kalimbas, a psychedelic pattern of tonal glasses and pneumatic hi-hat patterns. It is also featured in the main video, but even without a visual part, listening to his music, a sound world opens up which is unheard of before: in definition, reference and organic nature. Geist: “When you listen to robots playing, you realize, that they sound precise, but in contrast to digital sounds they transport an immense organic feeling. No beat is like the other, everything is played with actual acoustic physicality and thus the actual error. At the same time, the repetitive nature of the robots makes it perfect for playing electronic music. It’s industrial and organic at the same time.”

The track ”The DNA of Drumming” explores the combination of ritual drumming and robots. Moritz Simon Geist took several tuned drums and let robotic actuators play rhythms, combining everything to a reduced slow stomper that slowly moves in a hypnotic manner.

“In G# (Katze läuft über Klavier)” is a direct reference to Terry Riley’s “In C”. The song starts with a robot hammering on prepared piano strings, being slowly filled with robotic marimbas, glasses, robotic shaker robots and Moritz’ own invention, and mechanic relay synthesizer, which plays notes and melodies with mechanic tongues. It’s the warmest song on the album and the only one featuring stronger melodic movements.

What Moritz Simon Geist came up with is a stunning record of what is possible today – to explore the sound of mechanics that keeps on filling our world. Geist creates a smashing soundtrack for both the precise automation and physical fragility that shapes today’s society.

ABOUT THE ARTIST:

Moritz Simon Geist is a performer, musicologist, and robotics engineer. He started because he wants to invent the future of electronic music – with robots! Geist’s projects range from robotic music performances to robotic sound installations. His robotic instruments and performances have been shown in numerous European festivals and exhibitions throughout the last years. He collaborates with performers such as Mouse on Mars and Robert Lippok and teaches on the progression of technology and society at the NYU Berlin. He was awarded the Artist-In-Residence-Stipend for the Free State of Saxony, the Visual Music Award 2017 and a working grant of the Initiative Music 2017/18. His background is both as a classical musician and a robotics engineer, with an expertise in prototyping technologies and 3D-Printing.

“His concept is treating some important questions of the future, like the perception of technology, the robotization of society or the artificial intelligence, but still comes in a very playful and entertaining way: through electronical music.” (Alain Bieber)

“Turning back to physical roots of electronic music, Geist proposes an open source, hack based approach to different levels of music making – the acoustics, performance and production. His robotic ensembles expose the inner workings of electronic music by turning back to the instruments of the 80s, discovering and illustrating the mechanisms behind the well-known electronic music sound diapason. His proposal expresses a long-term dedication and enthusiasm to his ongoing research on musical robots, with the aim of creating a live performance.“