Written by Dave Shumka
Can the Terminator shred? I hope not. Can the Canadarm play the banjo? That would be an incredible misuse of resources. Since the dawn of Kraftwerk, people have wondered what it would sound like if robots made music.
Thanks to recent advances in robotics, we now have an idea. And since it's Science Week at CBC Music, we've assembled the most amazing examples of robots singing, playing instruments and even composing music.
From the super cool to the super creepy, check out 10 musical robots in the gallery above.
And for more great science and music stories, check out our Science Week page all week, because we'll be adding new stories every day.
Squarepusher x Z-Machines
In 2014, British musician Squarepusher teamed up with a group of Japanese robotics engineers who had developed Z-Machines, a band of robotic musicians. Using electronic signals and mechanical responses, they can play with greater speed and precision than any human.
Squarepusher wrote the music with this in mind, and the result is some combination of prog-rock, jazz and 8-bit sound effects.
German "metal" band Compressorhead uses technology similar to Z-Machines', but with more recognizable instruments—and they play more recognizable music: Motörhead's "Ace of Spades."
The robot mouth
From the "haunt your dreams" department, this silicon mouth uses robotic pushers to change the shape of the "lips" and "throat" while pushing air through. It can also mimic human voices. It's incredibly troubling, and not exactly tuneful.
While this may look like a violin on life support, it's actually a "kinetic sculpture" that uses electromagnetic actuators to move the bow, the robotic "fingers" and the violin itself. Unlike a human violinist who changes the angle of the bow for each string, the Ro-Bow changes the angle of the violin and keeps the bow straight.
Toyota's violin robot
Another violin-playing robot? Toyota – yes, the Tercel people – unveiled a group of musical robots at the 2005 World Expo. This one, with its manual dexterity, was the most impressive. It even uses vibrato.
The drone orchestra
When they're not delivering our packages or invading our airspace, drones can apparently play music. It may not be the popular interpretation of a robot, but this army of unmanned miniature helicopters uses their weight to play a medley of classic tunes on a bunch of custom instruments.
Improvising jazz robots
Georgia Tech student Mason Bretan assembled this jazz combo consisting of himself on guitar, piano and drums, three dancing robots that create electronic music using improvisational algorithms, and a mechanical marimba-playing robot who improvises a pretty slick solo.
Experiments in Musical Intelligence
Musician and computer scientist David Cope has created a system of, oh, let's say algorithms, capable of analyzing the works of a composer and emulating their style, in order to compose new works. Here is a composition in the style of Bach, sung by humans, thankfully.
The Chuck E. Cheese band
Okay, technically they're not a real band because they're just lip-syncing, but they do a great cover of "Don't You Forget About Me."