Saturday, October 9, 2010

Evidence that the robots do my bidding

So, . . . robots.

 You mention the word and everybody's got an image that comes to mind.  For some it's C3PO, for others it's Al Gore, and for some people it's even an overgrown hockey puck that vacuums/wanders your room and scares the dog.  Mostly everyone wonders "Why don't I have a robot to <insert least favorite chore here> for me yet?"

Well, the fine folks at Toyota have gotten quite mixed up.  After seeing Transformers, they realized that making cars is pretty much the same as making robots, so they decided that they should dabble in it.  But instead of making a proof-of-concept robot that will clean the rain gutters, sand dry wall, or move dog poop over to my neighbor's yard, they have made a robot that plays the violin:

The only problem is: people LIKE playing the violin.  That's like making a robot to finish off the bag of potato chips for you, or watch the football game so that you can spend that time on dog poop patrol.  I have to admit, they nailed the cool robot look: storm trooper white, with eyes that look like they could definitely shoot laser beams, but the guys who programmed him for the demo need to be flogged.  I understand the eye-lasers are probably a Japanese military secret, but they still could have shown him wrestling a shark, or something.

In any case, it is becoming less and less important that an entity have mechanical arms and legs.  So much of the world can now be influenced in computers and networks.  And people have what is equivalent to fairly low-intelligence, very special purpose robots working for them much of the time, bringing them world news, delivering bills from service providers, checking your credit card purchases for atypical behavior, finding out if there's a decent Italian restaurant nearby.

Well, one of the things that my laptop-robot does for me is help play music.  I wanted to try to write part of a woodwind quintet.  I played in a woodwind quintet for a bit in high school, and it was lots of fun.  The problem is that I don't play in one now.  So, instead of waiting sadly with sheet music in hand for oboe, flute, and F horn players to appear, I have put Ortsy to work (Yes, my computer has a name.  Yes, you are embarrassed that you know me).  I used a program to write write the five different parts.  Another program has a database of lots of instrument samples (here samples are recordings of instruments playing individual notes for several seconds at a time).  The second program takes the music I wrote, and essentially cuts and pastes from the database of instrument samples to produce a file that sounds like people playing the instruments (more or less).

I tried to write a fugue, which is one of the old music forms.  It's kind of like a round ("Row, row, row your boat . . ."), but when other instruments come in they don't have to keep exactly repeating the theme.  They can start to play with the rhythm and harmony a bit, but there are still rules about what notes can be played simultaneously and where you can move from a given note.  I only got about a minute done, since I found it tricky to keep all of the parts moving, while avoiding repetition or harmonic conflict.  It was still fun, though, and the results are nice:

Woodwind Fugue by are.kay.more


  1. You're going down, robot clarinet. Fugue time is over- go wash some dishes.

  2. We need to find us a flute and French horn player. And an oboe. I guess. *sigh*