Filtered for musical cyborgs

19.27, Friday 29 May 2020


Here’s Piano Genie, a device with a row of eight colourful arcade buttons that sits between the player and the actual piano keyboard.

Play the coloured buttons, and the device improvises a virtuoso performance on the piano itself – matching the intent of your ham-fisted button pushing.

Musical upscaling, I guess?

File this cyborg prosthesis as: power amplifier. It directly amplifies human intent.


Guitar Machine is a robotic attachment for a guitar.

At first it seems like Guitar Machine is a replacement for the human: the player will “train” the machine (programming by example?) and the machine will replay what it has been taught.

So file this cyborg prosthesis as: macro engine. Script once, repeat indefinitely.

BUT – give a machine like this to a musician, and they try to break it. Guitar Machine can play the guitar simultaneously with the human:

He was seamlessly transitioning between giving the robot the lead, taking over control, and synthesizing his own playing with the robot’s once he understood what the robot was doing.

A duet!


Here’s a short documentary about a drummer with a bionic arm. He lost his original arm, and now in its place is this bionic arm that is made to play the drums.

Another article goes hard on how the beats aren’t humanly possible: The prosthetic arm can play the drums four times faster than humans.

The arm can also play strange polyrhythms that no human can play.

Then there’s this bit:

Then, he fitted Barnes with a cyborg arm with two drumsticks – one that is controlled by Barnes, and the other that operates autonomously through its own actuator. The arm actually listens to the music being played and improvises its own accompanying beat pattern, which are pre-programmed into it.

I am into the idea that this cyborg arm has its own will and its own creative urge.

The two-way feedback and improvisation makes this more than a duet.

File this cyborg prosthesis as a third type: centaur.

I posted last month about wild cyborg prosthetics – it strikes me that a typology like this is a useful way to generate more ideas.


Are there research labs in the UK/Europe working on the underlying tech for this? In any domain really, music to military, swimming to shopping. Like, human prostheses haunted by embedded wilful compute?

As they say, lmk.


The Impossible Music of Black MIDI starts with some historical background:

In 1947, the composer Conlon Nancarrow–frustrated with human pianists and their limited ability to play his rhythmically complex music–purchased a device which allowed him to punch holes in player piano rolls. This technology allowed him to create incredibly complex musical compositions, unplayable by human hands, which later came to be widely recognized by electronic musicians as an important precursor to their work.

And this is the whole point. Cyborg technology is not about existing musicians playing existing music with less effort. It’s about scouting ahead to invent whole new genres.

The article goes on to talk about Black MIDI itself:

A similar interest in seemingly impossible music can be found today in a group of musicians who use MIDI files (which store musical notes and timings, not unlike player piano rolls) to create compositions that feature staggering numbers of notes. They’re calling this kind of music “black MIDI,” which basically means that when you look at the music in the form of standard notation, it looks like almost solid black.

The sound is an ascent into an insane chaos, like jamming static in your ears. I love it.

Do check out the article because then you can listen to the track Bad Apple, which is embedded there, and which reportedly includes 8.49 million separate notes.

Not that we measure the worth of music by weight, like buying potatoes. But still, what if we did.

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