Cool Noise: Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Giorgio Moroder

© CarlosMatallanaDiaz with CCLicense

© CarlosMatallanaDiaz with CCLicense

Daft Punk became popular in the 1990s and is credited with some of the biggest hits of the French house music scene, including Phoenix and Rollin’ and Scratchin’. Audiences in the United States probably know them best for One More Time. The electronic music duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter is known for its theatrical showmanship as well as its musical virtuosity, performing in iconic android costumes featuring helmets that are the epitome of cool. Their shows also feature impressive lighting displays and strong visual and story-telling elements.

It has been a few years since Daft Punk produced an album, but their newest offering, Random Access Memories, becomes available May 21st. This album is creating some exciting buzz as Daft Punk, in partnership with The Creator’s Project, has collaborated with famous electronic musicians to create something new, often hearkening back to previous decades and to more acoustic music. This is a great example of crossing genres to find new styles. I can’t wait to hear what they have cooked up! Here is a little taste, featuring robots in the desert, something that Synkroniciti wholeheartedly embraces.

Video via PoufyGB on YouTube.

The next video, the first of a series produced by The Creator’s Project about the new album, is an interview with award winning producer and electronic musician Giorgio Moroder, famous for his work with many recording artists, including disco hits with Donna Summer, and for his film scores, which include Midnight Express, Flashdance, Scarface and Top Gun. Listen to him tell you about how he first met the synthesizer and how he and Donna Summer created hits like Love to Love You, Baby. He is among the collaborators that Daft Punk selected for Random Access Memories and he has a great deal of praise for the work and its creators. So much coolness in one place!

Video via CreatorsProject on YouTube.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Robot Musicians

© Mr Wabu under CCLicense

© Mr Wabu under CCLicense

A whimsical and eye-opening tour of robots performing. Your printer won’t be going on tour soon, but technology is improving!

First up, a cover of Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger by the EOL Robot Band.  If you find the lead singer is curiously reminiscent of Steven Hawking, you’ll be interested to know that the Vocals Digital DECtalk Express used here is the same type of unit Hawking used back in the 1980’s, controlled here by a Genesi Linux box. He’s a real scream, “uuuuuhhh”. The rest of the band is fairly impressive: Robot Snare, Robot Bass Drum, Robot Tambourine, Robot Keyboard and HP Scanner, who pretty much steals the show.

Video via bd594 on YouTube.

Perhaps the original song has enough electronic components that the band, excluding the singer, of course, doesn’t sound very far removed. How well do they do without the singer? Try this version of Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People. HP Scanner is in fine form again and we now have Robot Bass.

A bit mechanical? Well, what about something more acoustic… say brass and percussion? Meet Toyota’s Concero Quartet: Harry (trumpet), Dave (trumpet), Chuck (tuba), and Ritchie (drums). Not too shabby, and no one is miscounting their rests!

Video via gustavokenichi on YouTube.

I think they managed to put the appropriate ego into the lead trumpet player. If that doesn’t scare you, the next robot band from the University of Pennsylvania is comprised of quadrorotors, the same technology that pilots many automated military drones. The execution is much weaker than that of robots specifically designed to play music, but the visual is entertaining.

Video via UnivPennsylvania on YouTube.

All of these robots perform pre-programmed or learned routines. What about a robot that improvises? This is Shimon, created by the Georgia Institute of Technology. He learns to play in the style of jazz greats while improvising with a human partner.

Finally, what about replacing a vocalist with an android? Okay, I can hear you reciting singer jokes, but this is actually the most difficult sound to reproduce. Feast your eyes on HRP-4C, a female android that sings, complete with voice imitation software.

Perhaps she will do well at karaoke, but I can’t imagine her capturing a resonant female voice. My guess is that pop singers who rely on autotune should be slightly worried.

What do you think? Do robots have a chance as musicians?

Quote for Today: Steven Pinker

Today’s ubiquitous, networked computers have an unprecedented ability to do mischief should they ever go to the bad. But the only mayhem comes from unpredictable chaos or from human malice in the form of viruses. We no longer worry about electronic serial killers or subversive silicon cabals because we are beginning to appreciate that malevolence—like vision, motor coordination, and common sense—does not come free with computation but has to be programmed in. …Aggression, like every other part of human behavior we take for granted, is a challenging engineering problem!
― Steven PinkerHow the Mind Works

Into the Uncanny Valley: Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Geminoids and Telenoids

Why do we possess an instinctive fear of androids? Are we prepared for the questions and issues these robots inspire?

You may or may not be familiar with the uncanny valley. It is the theory that robots and animated figures produce strong discomfort in people when they fall slightly short of passing for human. Figures that do not have human attributes do not produce this discomfort. Adding human attributes at first increases empathy in the observer, until at some point a line is crossed, rendering the figure too human for comfort. The lifeless face of the mannequin is rendered more terrifying by putting it in motion. No one completely understands what disturbs us so. Is it the facial expression, the coordination or something in the eyes? Is it possible to make a robot or an image on the other side of the valley, one which is so like us that we would consider befriending it?

Scientists, engineers and animators have been working to resolve this issue. Our generation is able to conceive of a character in an animated film or game that looks completely human, of a robot that looks and feels exactly like us, and yet the valley is getting deeper and darker. Recent experiments with androids that have faces and skin have produced creepier and creepier robots. The most marketable humanoid robots today are either mechanized creations that perform specific tasks but have little personality or those that seem to be patterned after children’s toys, with non threatening faces and no skin.

CCLI by vanillase on wikimedia commons

© vanillase with CCLicense

Hiroshi Ishiguro is the Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University in Japan. He has been making humanoid robots for years, including the female looking Geminoid™ F and the male looking Geminoid™ HI-1, patterned after himself. Both of these robots are at the cutting edge of the uncanny valley.

Video via jennymanda on YouTube.

Ishiguro’s latest model might be considered a sidestep. It is less human, but I’ll let you decide if you think it is less creepy. Meet the Telenoid R1, a portable android that can “transfer” a person’s presence. That person can transmit their own movements and words into the robot via laptop. The Telenoid is described as “a minimalistic human” and consists of a torso with a neck, head and face. If you feel inclined, it is quite huggable, the size of a child with soft and pleasant skin. In order to be better able to picture the essence of the person using it, it is designed to look both old and young and both male and female. The hope is that the Telenoid will become a comforting extension of that person. Perhaps a mother would be able to soothe her children from a distance using a Telenoid. Would you feel soothed?

Video via fhSPACEtv on YouTube.

Ishiguro’s Telenoid may help us understand what it is about androids that gets under our skin. Maybe our understanding of the valley is imprecise. What if what waits on the other side isn’t a more human robot, but something else?

Want to see the latest sales strategy for the Telenoid? Look here.

Quote for Today: Tim Burton

Mr. Smith yelled at the doctor,
“What have you done to my boy?
He’s not flesh and blood,
he’s aluminum alloy!”
The doctor said gently,
“What I’m going to say
will sound pretty wild.
But you’re not the father
of this strange looking child.
You see, there still is some question
about the child’s gender,
but we think that its father
is a microwave blender.”

― Tim BurtonThe Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories