Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, is known for pushing the limits of electronic music.
His latest EP goes beyond electronic sounds and into the territory of electronic musicians: robots that play instruments.
He first encountered the musical machinery last year when Japanese researchers introduced him to the Z-Machine robots: a 78-fingered guitarist, a percussionist utilizing 22 drums, and a lightning speed keyboardist. Jenkinson was immediately impressed by the robots' capabilities.
He also discovered that in spite of their incredible abilities, they are not limitless. In fact, Jenkinson even had fun playing with pushing the guitar robot too far:
"There are elements in the recording where I’ve actually deliberately pushed it too far, because you can then start to get these very strange, random, idiosyncratic...barrage of noise that I find really fascinating and quite interesting."
Ultimately, though, Jenkinson wanted to find out if robot musicians could make emotional music. While he is reluctant to say whether or not he succeeded, he's fairly certain that the album went a long way in providing an answer:
"I find technology fascinating in it’s own right, but my criteria for releasing a piece of music is that it has something above and beyond that. It has an element which can’t be written down, it can’t be quantified."
When you ask someone about their favorite piece of music, the conversation gets personal. Everyone feels music differently -- that's what makes it human.
It's why music and technology, at least to some people, seem like a mismatch. Machines are cold. Music is not.
Here's the thing: We use technology to make music all the time. No, I do not count the auto-tuned antics of Glee tracks released on iTunes. I'm talking about musicians using technology to compose, create, and record music. It's a relationship that gets deeper and more complex all the time. The place where music and technology cross paths is a fascinating intersection.
All this week, we'll talk to musicians for whom tech is an integral part of their process. From Squarepusher, who wrote an entire EP of music played by robot musicians, to Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, who turns herself into a one-woman percussion instrument using loops and drum machines. We'll also talk to prolific film composer John Powell about his recording process for film, and electronic musician/composer Dan Deacon about why the computer is the biggest diva he's ever worked with (and why it has a right to be). DJ Rekha, credited with bringing Bhangra music to America, talks about the technology involved in being a DJ, and how it has evolved over time.
These are musicians and performers at the top of their game who constantly ask themselves how technology can help them be better at what they do, but also wonder how far is too far when it comes to letting machines take over. Each of these guests have funny and insightful comments to offer.
So plug in your keytar, boot up your computer, and let's get to playing with machines.