Square­pusher’s ro­bot band­mates play live, plus Gruff Rhys and Michael Jack­son

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS - square­, out now

As ses­sion mu­si­cians go, Z-Ma­chines are in a class of their own. For­get that they’re not im­paired by egos or “mu­si­cal dif­fer­ences”, this ro­botic trio con­sists of a 78-fin­gered gui­tarist, a key­boardist that shoots lasers and a drum­mer with 22 arms.

But while they pos­sess the stage pres­ence of RoboCop armed with an axe, they still need a good tune – which is where Tom Jenk­in­son, aka elec­tro mas­ter Square­pusher, comes in. Ap­proached by Z-Ma­chines’ head roboti­cist Ken­jiro Mat­suo to cre­ate a piece for live shows, Jenk­in­son found the process so en­joy­able he per­suaded Mat­suo to let him record a whole EP, Mu­sic For Ro­bots. T3 ex­plores the mechs be­hind the mu­sic… T3: Is com­pos­ing for ro­bots a chal­lenge? Square­pusher: “I needed to es­tab­lish what the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of the ro­bots were. So, with the Z-Ma­chine that plays two gui­tars at the same time, I had to es­tab­lish the to­tal range of notes, how fast it could play them and how many it could play si­mul­ta­ne­ously. They’re the same sort of con­sid­er­a­tions you’d have ap­proach­ing any com­bi­na­tion of in­stru­ments and per­form­ers – what can they do?” T3: Did you find yourself push­ing the lim­its, test­ing what Z-Ma­chines are ca­pa­ble of? SP: “Of course, you’ve got to con­cede to the 12-year-old boy in­side you at some point and say, ‘Okay, let’s see how fast this can go, be­cause why the hell not?’ But for me it’s about try­ing to ex­plore some of the tech’s less ob­vi­ous as­sets. For ex­am­ple, be­ing able to play chords over mas­sive dis­tances.

“The gui­tar ro­bot [March] could play six sep­a­rate melodies at the same time; no hu­man could do that. So there are abil­i­ties that, to some de­gree, shape the com­po­si­tions. Part of what at­tracts people to this project is the nov­elty, they’re mu­sic boxes with at­ti­tude, but I don’t think I’d be happy if these tracks were just ways of demo­ing the ro­bots.” T3: Do people’s per­cep­tion of the EP change when they learn it’s played by ro­bots? SP: “This is one of the things that makes the project so in­ter­est­ing, be­cause it demon­strates how much con­text af­fects people’s re­sponse to mu­sic. In a way, I’m en­vi­ous of people who are able to lis­ten to this al­bum, not know­ing any­thing about it.

“What people hear ini­tially is supreme mu­si­cal ath­leti­cism, but for some people, once you tell them it’s played by ro­bots, that some­how dis­qual­i­fies the whole thing. In­stead of a gui­tar player, you have en­gi­neers which are work­ing equally hard ap­ply­ing dif­fer­ent skills. I don’t see why a piece of mu­sic should lose merit be­cause it’s not be­ing played by hu­mans. It’s anachro­nis­tic.

“Mu­sic is of­ten de­scribed in terms of hu­man be­hav­iour and at­tributes; you’ll hear a track as be­ing played with ‘sen­si­tiv­ity’, or an­other as be­ing ‘ag­gres­sive’. All of this ter­mi­nol­ogy is based on hu­man be­hav­iour. If you re­move any trace of hu­man­ity from the mu­sic, does that mean the ap­pre­ci­a­tion drops away? I hope not. I hope people will look past the ro­bots and ac­tu­ally lis­ten to the tracks.” Mu­sic For Ro­bots from $9.99 on down­load, CD or vinyl,

the z-mac hines’ gui­tarist ca n play chor ds no huma nwould ever at­tempt

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