We often imagine a future world filled with robots and artificial intelligence agents, where humans share their civilization with sentient beings made out of metals and plastics, that function much like we do. But we could also imagine robots that take the form of existing objects, such as tools, furniture, or vehicles. As an example, consider driving assistance features in modern cars, which offload certain driving responsibilities and automate them, creating a more convenient experience for the human driver.
Guitar Machine investigates such a possibility in the context of musical instruments. It is a “smart” or robotic attachment for a guitar that allows a human artist and a robot to share the act of playing the instrument. Of course, automation has long been part of music history—from the classic player piano to robotic heavy metal band (Z-machines). However, most of these existing apparatuses revolve around automation, relying on machines to take the place of human endeavor, in one of the prime domains of human creativity.
That divisive view between us and technology has always bothered me. To me, the division seems arbitrary, while the roles of a human artist and an instrument (a technology) have always been more synergistic (or even symbiotic) than anything.
“…I am more and more convinced that some of the essential structures of music are rooted in the body…the very close relationship which exists between ‘dancing’ with the body and producing musical sounds as a result of this activity…” —“Music and the Body,” John Baily
There is another fascinating vertical to consider, which is a more free-form, avant-garde movement in music. Musicians have long tried new ways to use specific instruments, or invented new instruments and tools for unexplored inspirations. It is also well known in ethnomusicology that an instrument governs the shape of the music played on it—not only the sonic characteristics of the instrument, but what musicians are inclined, or even able, to do with it, from a very basic motor level.