Since the popularization of musical automata in eighteenth-century Europe, musicians and theorists have criticized the ability of these instruments to perform music in an expressive way when compared to human performers. Contemporary robotic instrument designers face similar criticisms and go to great lengths to increase control over the subtle aspects of music-making associated with human expression: phrasing, articulation, timbre, and dynamics. Such advancements increase these instruments’ capability for sonic nuance, however, they don’t necessarily translate into expressive performances when compared with human performers. This presentation discusses how music that embraces the mechanical nature of robotic instruments can convey a different type of expressive meaning, “mechatronic expression.” This concept will be explored through a series of compositions created for Expressive Machines Musical Instruments’ musical robots.
Steven Kemper creates music for acoustic instruments, instruments and computers, musical robots, dance and video. His compositions have been performed at numerous concerts and festivals around the world. Kemper’s research has been presented at the New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) conference, International Computer Music Conference (ICMC), International Workshop on Movement and Computing (MOCO), and published in Organized Sound and Emille: The Journal of the Korean Electro-Acoustic Music Society. He is a co-founder of Expressive Machines Musical Instruments, a musical robotics collective, and co-creator of several interactive musical systems, including the RAKS (Remote electro-Acoustic Kinesthetic Sensing) system for interactive belly dance and Movable Party, a bicycle-powered system for participant-performed interactive electroacoustic music. Kemper received a Ph.D. in composition and computer technologies from the University of Virginia and is currently assistant professor of music technology and composition in the music department at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.