Haiku Salut to perform alongside self-playing Robot Orchestra

The much talked about Derbyshire three-piece Haiku Salut will perform alongside The Robot Orchestra, a self-playing artificial ensemble, at The Hexagon Experiment on Friday 10 August at the Centre For Life science park in Newcastle.

The six-part series features live music, conversations and original commissions “from pioneering women at the forefront of music, art and science”. For more information, visit getnorth2018.com

The Robot Orchestra event will be hosted by mathematician Katie Steckles, and will feature Haiku Salut’s Sophie Barkerwood joined in-conversation by the creator of the Robot Orchestra (and recent Michael Faraday Prize winner) Professor Danielle George MBE and algorithmic musician Joanne Armitage.

We caught up with Sophie and Gemma Barkerwood from the band to find out more…

How did you get involved with The Hexagon Experiment?
Sophie: “The Hexagon Experiment is part of a three-year initiative run by Brighter Sound in Manchester who are a charity that support emerging artists and inspire female music creators in the North of England. We had already been flirting with the idea of using motors/electronics when Brighter Sound asked us to be involved in this project.”

You’re appearing alongside The Robot Orchestra…
Gemma: “The Robot Orchestra is an initiative headed by the engineering dept at The University of Manchester, they’re made from a mix of recycled old instruments, electronics and junk. Their debut performance was a collaboration with the Halle Orchestra and they’ve appeared on the BBC documentary ‘Can A Robot Replace Ed Sheeran?’, and now it’s our turn.”
Sophie: “We’ve written a piece especially for the robots to play alongside us, so we’re the composers and the conductors. We’re not able to use the entire orchestra due to the amount of time it would take to program them. We are using four of the orchestra members, Glock-O-Bot being the one most likely to automate anyone out of a job. We are still, at this present time, in charge.”

Have you been able to rehearse with The Robot Orchestra or have you had to adopt a new way of working?
Sophie: “We made it clear that we would need to spend some time with The Robot Orchestra beforehand! If there’s a mistake when you perform with other humans it can be rectified relatively quickly, as we’ll be triggering the robots so it’s important they obey orders given it by qualified personnel, to quote Asimov’s 2nd law of robotics. So, yeah, much tinkering and rehearsing.”
Gemma: “We were really lucky to work with Dan Mather who was involved in the original robot orchestra and the creator of Glock-O-Bot. He has been doing all the programming for the robot orchestra, we’ve had a few meetings with Dan there to do some fine tuning. It’s definitely not a rehearsal as we know it though, more of a technical chin-wag.”

What have you learnt from your experiments with self-playing instruments?
Sophie: “We’ve been able to create a multitude of sounds from motors and household items that sound glitchy and wonky and stuttery. Something that a person on a drum kit couldn’t achieve. For me, I think it’s good for electronic music to sound a bit wrong. Why make electronic music if a human could play it equally as well?”

All good experiments contain moments of disaster, any you’d care to admit to?
Sophie: “Not yet… we’ve only been in possession of The Robot Orchestra for a few days. Apparently Glock-O-Bot throws a wobbly if you plug the motors in before the power and it slams down on all the keys at once. We’ll try and avoid that, we don’t want it contacting HR.”

Will machines, one day, be our overlords? If so, will you welcome them?
Sophie:”It’s possible! I think it’s natural to be alarmed by the speed of artificial intelligence and automation. It’s scary! When machines become more intelligent than us will they look after us or will humans be superfluous and unimportant to them?”
Gemma: “On the other hand if machines and AI are properly controlled from the outset they may take on the laborious aspects of our lives and allow us greater freedom to focus on what makes us human – creativity, curiosity, joy. I would welcome the latter!”

You can watch a video of The Robot Orchestra in action on Haiku Salut’s Twitter profile:

Haiku Salut’s new album ‘There Is No Elsewhere’ is reviewed in the new issue of Electronic Sound and they’ve just announced an autumn tour. For dates and more information go to http://www.haikusalut.com/liveshows/