Image: The Banjo Lesson by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1893
Today you go into make a modern recording with all this technology. The bass plays first, then the drums come in later, then they track the trumpet and the singer comes in and they ship the tape somewhere. Well, none of the musicians have played together. You can’t play jazz music that way. In order for you to play jazz, you’ve got to listen to them. The music forces you at all times to address what other people are thinking and for you to interact with them with empathy and to deal with the process of working things out. And that’s how our music really could teach what the meaning of American democracy is.
For the moment, the jazz is playing; there is no melody, only notes, a myriad of tiny jolts. They know no rest, an inflexible order gives birth to them and destroys them without even giving them time to recuperate and exist for themselves. They race, they press forward, they strike me a sharp blow in passing and are obliterated. I would like to hold them back, but I know if I succeeded in stopping one it would remain between my fingers only as a raffish languishing sound. I must accept their death; I must even will it. I know few impressions stronger or more harsh.
La Mano Ajena, Alien Hand, is a Chilean band comprised of Rodrigo Latorre, saxophone, guitar, flute, keyboard and theremin; María Fernanda Carrasco, vocals, keyboard, melodica and percussion; Danka Villanueva, violin and marimba; Gabriel Moyla, accordion and saxophone; Jair Moreno, clarinet; Álvaro Sáez, drums, darbuka and djembe; and Cristian Aqueveque, bass, all of whom began their careers in Chilean theatre. Their music is an eclectic mix of styles from Europe and Latin America, including folk dances, klezmer, and jazz, among others. A mix of the comic and the serious that owes something to Brecht as well as to the dance halls of Europe in the 1940s and 50s, this video features a quirky tune called Aves Errantes, Wandering Birds, sung in French and Spanish.
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?
When pianist Alfredo Rodriguez was invited to play for jazz legend Quincy Jones, he was excited and perhaps a little nervous. The journey would not do much for his nerves. A Cuban National, he was arrested by Mexican officials before crossing the border at Laredo, Texas. He was detained for several hours, while officials demanded money and threatened to deport him. This piece, called Crossing the Border, is a testament to the racing feelings that possessed him during that ordeal. Alfredo’s playing is fiery, full of technical bravura and deep emotion.
And yes, everything worked out. Alfredo was able to come to the United States and fulfill his dream of collaborating with Quincy Jones. We are thankful that we get to hear him play.
Video via QuincyJonesProds on Youtube.
For more about jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, you can read and listen here at NPR.org.