Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, Maestro Zubin Metal

I had a gig tonight, and it went well...but it wasn't nearly as interesting as this one: The Detroit Symphony was conducted by a robot on one of its numbers tonight:
The lights dimmed, the sold-out hall grew hushed and out walked the conductor - shiny, white, 4 feet 3 inches tall.

ASIMO, a robot designed by Honda Motor Co. (HMC), met its latest challenge Tuesday evening: Conducting the Detroit Symphony in a performance of "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha."

"Hello, everyone," ASIMO said to the audience in a childlike voice, then waved to the orchestra.

As it conducted, it perfectly mimicked the actions of a conductor, nodding its head at various sections and gesturing with one or both hands. ASIMO took a final bow to enthusiastic shouts from the audience.

"It is absolutely thrilling to perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This is a magnificent concert hall," ASIMO said.
ASIMO, which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, was programmed in accordance with the motions of the orchestra's educational director, who conducted a dummy performance done by a pianist a while back. The musicians thought him to be a bit stiff, but more human-like than they would have expected.

Well, there was this, though...
During the first rehearsal, the orchestra lost its place when ASIMO began to slow the tempo, something a human conductor would have sensed and corrected, said bassist Larry Hutchinson.
Oops. (And speaking of "oops," do you think anyone in Detroit was miffed that it was a Honda robot doing the conducting? Feel free to insert your obligatory joke about the GM robot breaking down if you so desire.)

And if you missed it a few years ago, check out the robot "playing" John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" solo on tenor sax. (Since that video was made, it's also been done faster, with a cheesy MIDI accompaniment to boot.)

A lesser use of technology: A guy in New York state took his riding lawnmower out for a 1 a.m. drunken joyride recently. (At least he had the presence of mind to wear a tuxedo while doing so. Really.)

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