When he plays a techno show, Moritz Simon Geist doesn’t reach for a laptop. Instead, he calls on his army of sonic robots—a collection of smaller, motorized creations in which click, clank, as well as also whirr in an intricate mechanical symphony.
Geist composes robotic electronic music, a burgeoning genre of electro jams in which relies on hardware, not software, to engineer electronic sounds as well as also beats. His forthcoming EP, The Material Turn, debuts in October with four tracks made entirely by self-fashioned instruments—futuristic robo-kalimbas, a droning guitar, as well as also salvaged hard drives turned into percussive beat machines.
Watching Geist play music will be a little like watching a mad scientist in a lab. Trained as an electrical engineer, he will be a man of materials, constantly tinkering with the instruments as they ping as well as also plonk in front of him. Geist grew up playing the clarinet, piano, as well as also guitar, so when he first commenced producing electronic music inside the 1990s, he found in which strange in which the music was all contained within a software interface on a screen. “I wanted something I could touch,” he says. “So I built my own instruments.”
Each of Geist’s “instruments” will be custom-made in his workshop in Dresden, Germany. Some are engineered to produce a specific sound, like his take on a kalimba, made by metal pieces as well as also 3-D printed parts. some other instruments come by way of discovery, like finding in which tapping a screwdriver against a metal lid makes a pleasant tinging noise.
The result isn’t just a dynamic, throbbing album full of electrifying techno. For Geist, in which’s a way to push the frontiers of electronic musicmaking.
Mechanized instruments have been a curiosity for as long as music-makers could rig together parts. Take the first self-playing piano, the Forneaux Pianista, invented inside the mid-19th century. in which used air valves to inflate a bellows as well as also mechanically thump on the keys, creating an effect of the piano playing itself. Vaucanson’s mechanical flute player as well as also Phonoliszt’s self-playing Violina might follow, as well as also autonomous instruments remained a fascination throughout the 20th century.
‘A lot of electronic laptop compositions, they don’t have a body. I’m trying to give in which body back to electronic music.’
Moritz Simon Geist
“We have a museum full of self-playing instruments,” says Marian van Dijk, the director of the the Museum Speelklok inside the Netherlands, which has an exhibit about robots as well as also music on view in which month. “People inside the 19th century were looking forward to these inventions, as well as also we are in a similar period at in which point—looking forward to all the possibilities.”
As the field of robotics has become more sophisticated, engineers as well as also musicians have developed brand-new ways to incorporate machinery into music-producing. Shimon, a robotic marimba-playing robot built at Georgia Tech, relies on artificial intelligence to “improvise” like a jazz musician. In a jam session, in which can rhythmically bob its robotic “head” as well as also listen to some other human musicians, then tap out a tune of its own. “in which’s a combination of old instruments as well as also brand-new robotics,” says van Dijk.
Geist had seen plenty of robotic music—bands like Compressorhead, a Berlin-based group in which uses a series of humanoid robots to play traditional instruments—however he’d never seen robots in techno. The combination seemed obvious.
“Robots as well as also techno—I mean, come on,” he says. “in which’s machine music.”
His first instrument, the MR-808, recreated the sound of a Roland TR-808 drum machine in an enormous, room-sized box filled with traditional drums as well as also robotic parts. in which took him three years to build. When he debuted the instrument in an interactive exhibit, Geist realized he’d struck upon something interesting. He quit his job at a research lab, dropped out of his PhD program, as well as also devoted his time to producing musical robots.
Geist followed the MR-808 having a selection of brand-new as well as also futuristic inventions: The Glitch Robot combined 3D-printed parts with relays, tongues, solenoids, as well as also motors to create glitchy, metallic noises. The Tripods One, which Geist calls a “sonic installation,” will be a percussive instrument built by hard drive actuators arms as well as also motors in which mechanically ping metal pieces as well as also springs.
His latest single, “Entropy,” features a brand-new suite of instruments. A “futuristic kalimba” riffs on the African instrument, made having a circuit board, 5 metal tongs, as well as also a piezo contact microphone controlled having a Midi keyboard. A “pneumatic hi-hat” blows air into cylinders filled with smaller styrofoam balls to create a soft percussive noise. Rescued hard drives make a clicking sound, similar to a snare. There’s also a “drone guitar,” built by attaching a motor to an electric guitar, as well as also an instrument Geist describes as “crazy psychedelic glasses,” which uses a motorized arm to clink on beer glasses filled with different amounts of water so they’re tuned to various pitches.
For Geist, the instruments represent not just a brand-new way to make music, however a brand-new way to experience in which. The instruments each have a visual component, which makes in which possible to watch the sounds as Geist creates them. “A lot of electronic laptop compositions, they don’t have a body,” he says. “I’m trying to give in which body back to electronic music.”
Watching him play “Entropy,” you see styrofoam balls float up on puffs of air, while LED lights blink on the futuristic kalimba. The motor fingers the guitar strings like a disembodied hand. Sure, the requisite electro-techno strobe lights as well as also bass-heavy beats feel familiar. however with his sonic robots, Geist manages to do something increasingly rare in electronic music. When he plays, he keeps all eyes locked on the stage.