The Machine Orchestra (2008-2012)

Founded by Ajay Kapur, The Machine Orchestra combines the idea of a laptop orchestra with musical robotics. The core lineup of performers changes on a yearly basis, though guest artists Trimpin, Curtis Bahn, Tomie Hahn, and Perry R. Cook are regular collaborators.

As one of my primary venues for researching ideas about collaborative performance in a networked setting, the ensemble has been the source of a wealth of data. In particular, I’ve been able to explore ideas about real-time synchronicity on local-area networks as well as the role of expressive sensor systems in collaborative composition for a ‘shared social instrument.’ Since the beginning of the Orchestra in late 2008, I’ve been engaged with the ensemble in a number of roles in support of further research.

As an instrument designer and fabricator, I am involved with many of the current robots in the lineup, including the Notomoton, Breakbot, and Tammy. Glockenbot, featured on another page, is a robot of my own design. As a core member of the software engineering team, I’m responsible for ensuring the ensemble can both move and talk. Each electronic brain module runs off a single Atmel AVR microcontroller. Connected via USB to a central server, these controllers are flashed with a USB-HID firmware, HIDUINO, which I created as part of a related research project for new musical interfaces. In addition to maintaining HIDUINO, I’m the primary designer and developer of Signal, a client/server framework used in composition and performance.

The ensemble has given a number of notable performances including the January 2010 premiere at the REDCAT theater in LA, and the 2010 01SJ Biennial music/arts/technology festival in held in San Jose.

The Machine Orchestra has also been featured by a number of major news outlets including Wired, NBC Los Angeles, NPR, CNET, Huffington Post, and Newsweek.