By Anna Lynn Spitzer
1.28.05 -- Albert Yee, Calit2 Irvine division director, stepped in front of the cameras for a taped television interview last week. The interview with HDNews, the nation’s first all high-definition news channel, focused on the intersection of music and technology.
Yee was interviewed at UC Irvine’s Beall Center for Art & Technology, which is hosting LEMUR – League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots – through March 19. The exhibit is an interactive installation featuring an ensemble of musical robots controlled by customized musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) technology.
The LEMUR exhibit features “Guitarbot,” “TibetBot,” “ForestBot” and an orchestra of “Modbots” that play themselves in tandem with audience interaction (http://www.lemurbots.org/index.html). The “bots” can be played individually or as a group.
Yee was asked to comment on the technology driving the show. “I’ve never seen technology used like this,” Yee replied. “I’m fascinated. I’ve seen much simpler versions of this before, but not in a collection like this, which I think makes it even more exciting.”
When asked whether such technology was removing the human element from music, Yee responded, “I don’t think so at all. A great deal of creativity goes into deciding what the robots do and how they play. It’s the human mind behind this creativity that makes this possible.”
“Would a classic violinist disagree with that assessment?” the reporter asked. Yee was steadfast. “If you think about the violinists and others who play instruments, various musicians throughout the ages have tinkered with their instruments and actually transformed them to do the things they want them to do. So really, this is no different.”
The Beall Center exhibit is the largest LEMUR installation to date. The designers are a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based group of artists and technologists founded in 2000 by musician and engineer Eric Singer.
Singer was also interviewed by HDNews, immediately before Yee, only in a slightly different manner. Because he was in New York at the time, Singer was interviewed using a Macintosh computer and iChat software. iChat is an instant messaging program with uncommonly clear video. As he spoke with the reporter via cell-phone, Singer’s real-time image was projected onto the floor of the Beall Center, where it was filmed by the HDNews cameraman.
HDNews also interviewed Calit2 academic participant Joerg Meyer for its LEMUR footage.
LEMUR is supported in part by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and a number of smaller foundations.