Posts Tagged ‘Kraftwerk’

The Earliest Robot: Philon of Byzantium’s Wine Servant

February 28, 2023

One of the books I’ve been reading is Luca Beatrice’s Robot: A Visual Atlas from Ancient Greece to Artificial Intelligence (Milan: 24 Ore Culture 2016). This is an encyclopaedic discussion of robots in history, art, film and television, music, fashion and design, books, cartoons and toys and technology. The book’s blurb runs

‘Since ancient Greek times, man has sought to build a copy of himself. It is here, in the invention of the replica of himself, that he has felt closest to God.

From Philon of Byzantium to Isaac Asimov and Philip Dick, the inventor of the Replicants.

From Daft Punk to Kraftwerk, the band that used replica mannequins to perform their songs.

From Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Her, in which the protagonist falls in love with a computer.

From Astro Boy to the American Marvel comics superheroes and the Japanese characters Mazinger and Steel Jeeg.

And now, in the age of computers, the true robots of our time, those old tin and steel robots have assumed a vintage appeal that makes them even more irresistible.’

Although it’s very comprehensive, there are some glaring omissions. For example, when it comes to bands of real robot musicians, it includes Japan’s Z Machines, but leaves out Germany’s Compressorhead. It also includes some European comics that are obscure to English-speaking audiences, but doesn’t include 2000 AD’s Robusters or ABC Warriors despite the fact that these strips and their characters go back 40 years or so. But there is much that is genuinely new, like the Mutant Waste Company, a British artist’s collective now resident in Italy, who used to build robots out of disused car parts and pieces from scrap yards.

It begins with the first robot believed to have been built, Philon of Byzantium’s automatic servant. It says of this android

‘Designed by an engineer and writer who lived in the 3rd century BC in Byzantium, Philon’s Automatic Servant is the oldest robot in history with human features. Able to serve wine, its structure is composed of several elements: inside, under the tunic, are two containers, one of wine and one of water, connected to the jug by means of air tubes that carry the liquid long the right arm. The left hand, which holds the cup, is connected to a system of levers that regulate the movement of both arms: when the cup is placed on the hand, the left arm descends while the right arms moves to pour the wine mixed with water; as the cup gradually fills, its weight increases and as a result the arm descends until it reaches the lowest level and thus the limit of capacity. The system now comes to a halt, the guest can take his cup, and the arms return to their starting position, ready to begin again. The Automatic Servant is now housed in the Kostas Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology in Katakolo, Elis, Greece.’ (p. 16).

And here’s the photograph of the machine on the opposite page.

I’m pretty sure this is a reconstruction, as I imagine the real machine has been lost, although I might be wrong. Anyway, it’s a truly astonishing piece of engineering and shows once again just how sophisticated the engineers and scientists of the ancient world were. The Japanese also created a similar automaton, a mechanical servant girl that carried cups of tea to the guests.

Robots, Rock and Fashion

February 16, 2023

As you could probably tell from my piece about the very weird outfits sported by Sam Smith and Harry Styles at this year’s Grammys and Brit Awards, I’m not a fashionista. And I still remember Punk fashion designer Vivienne Westwood getting very narked on Wogan back in the 1980s when the audience started laughing at her extremely bizarre creations. ‘Why are they laughing?’, she wailed, followed by ‘Well, it went down very well in Milan’. Which it probably did, but I suspect that most ordinary Italians probably have no more patience for bonkers and unwearable clothing than we Brits or anyone else in the world.

But I am interested in robots and in art and music that includes them. And there have been a number of fashion designers who have included them in their shows. Alexander McQueen had this performance as part of his spring/summer 1999, where two industrial robots spray paint the model’s dress while an operatic aria wails in the background. The video is from the CoutureDaily channel on YouTube.

Then there’s this video of ‘Rock Meets Robots at Philippe Plein Fashion Show’, posted seven years ago on his YouTube channel by linearnetworkslive. This has the models gliding along a conveyor belt while industrial robots also move about the stage. You’ll also see the robot band Compressorhead, and the music for the show includes Kraftwerk, natch.

Plein also had another fashion show with a similar theme. This had Titan the Robot walking about the stage talking, before a giant UFO descended from the ceiling and a glamorous woman in a black catsuit walked out. Titan took her hand, and the two walked around the stage a bit more while Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ played in the background.

A female robot also made its debut at Tokyo Fashion Week as shown in this video, also from YouTube, put up by AP Archive. It’s interesting as a spectacle, but I’m afraid all the dialogue is in Japanese and their are no subtitles, so I have no idea what they’re saying.

I also found this interview posted by Dremel on their YouTube channel with the international fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht. Wipprecht describes herself as a fashion technician, who includes technology in her creations. She says that fashion is analogue, so she wanted to make it digital. One of her creations is a spider dress, which has little robotic spider legs about the neck and shoulders. It has motion sensors, which activate the legs as if they’re attacking if you come into the wearer’s personal space. Which is a bit scary. Wipprecht describes some of her techniques and tools, which includes Dremel’s 3-D printers, so the video’s a bit of an advert for the company. It reminds me a little of the short-lived vogue for wearable computers that briefly appeared in the ’90s before fizzling out.

These Wipprecht and the McQueen and Plein fashion shows are all very much in the aesthetic style of the Futurists, an aggressive Italian artistic movement that celebrated the novelty, speed and excitement of industry and the new machine age. In his ‘The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism’ of 1909, the movement’s founder, Filippo Marinetti, raved about how the movement would sing of workers toiling beneath electric moons, cars and aeroplanes and stated ‘we look forward to the future union of man and machine.’ I despise the Futurists’ aggressive nationalism, their militarism and ‘scorn for women’, but do like their exploration of the machine aesthetic in their art and music. One of the pieces they composed was entitled ‘The Agony of the Machine’, while another was an opera about the love a steam locomotive had for her driver. They were also interested in fashion, and reacted against tasteful, dark clothing demanding colourful attire that positively screamed at you. These fashion shows and Wipprecht bring this aesthetic into the 21st century and the age of AI and real robots.

But back in the ’70s before the technology had emerged to incorporate real robots into pop music, we had Dee Dee Jackson singing ‘Automatic Lover’ accompanied by a robot on stage, well, a man in a suit playing a robot. It was briefly mentioned in an episode of ‘Robusters’ in 2000 AD when the band plays it in an underground robot bar. Here, for fans of 70s disco, is a video I found of it, again on YouTube, on bchfj’s channel.

Automatica 4K: Nigel Stanford Rocks Out with Robots

January 19, 2018

This is awesome. It’s another video of robots playing rock music. I’ve put up a number of videos of the German robot band, Compressorhead, and Kraftwerk, when they decided that they were going to have android versions of themselves stand in for them in a concert during their track, ‘The Model’. In this video, musician Nigel Stanford plays bass guitar while a group of robot arms around him play piano, guitar and drums. One of them is also equipped with a cutting torch, which cuts out the band’s logo, before finally going into full, guitar-smashing, piano-wrecking, room-trashing destructive mode at the end. Thus proving that robot rockers can turn it all the way up to 11.

What If Kraftwerk Made a Doctor Who Cover?

August 11, 2017

This comes from the Georgecmusic channel on YouTube. Georgecmusic makes various arrangements of the Doctor Who theme in the style of other rock/pop musicians, including Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre.

In the piece below, he imagines what it would be like if the great German ‘engineers of sound’, Kraftwerk did one.

Well, it’d fit. They were one of the very first pioneers of synthpop, and their stage performances were also quite minimalist and mechanical. To the point where in one performance they were replaced by robot replicas themselves. One of the band – I’ve forgotten whom – has written his autobiography. Its title, at least in English, is ‘I Was a Cyborg’. It’s very fitting, therefore, that the title for this piece has the robots from the Tom Baker serial, ‘The Robots of Death’, instead of the band’s faces in imitation of one of their album covers.

The title’s also in German. Instead of ‘Doctor Who’, it’s ‘Doctor Wer’, which is a straight translation.

Delia Derbyshire, who arranged Grainer’s theme into its electronic form, was also a pioneer of electronic music. Alas, she died a few years ago, so we can only wonder what it would have sounded like if she and they had met in a lonely radiophonics workshop in a Galaxy far, far away…

Robots at the Philippe Plein Fashion Show in Milan

December 27, 2016

And Courtney Love, always assuming that she isn’t an android, of course.

I’ve got zero interest in fashion, but this is interesting as it’s stuff of Science Fiction today. I found this video of a fashion show in Milan for the designer Philippe Plein. This was based very much around robots. As you can see, Courtney Love and the models don’t come down a catwalk, but instead move along a conveyor. The music is provided by the German robot heavy metal band, Compressorhead, as well as a recording of Kraftwerk’s The Model, appropriately enough. Kraftwerk saw themselves as engineers of sound, and have performed with robots on stage themselves, or rather, with robotic versions of themselves, as well as cultivating a very robotic image themselves personally. A few years ago one of them published his autobiography, entitled I Was a Cyborg. As well as the robots of Compressorhead, there are big industrial robots moving about the stage filming the proceedings.

The Italian Futurists of the early 20th century would have really dug all of this. They were a militant artistic movement which celebrated war, masculinity, the new machine age and the speed of modern mass communication, like cinema newsreels, newspapers and radio. Their founder, the poet Marinetti, celebrated the motor car as ‘more beautiful than the Battle of the Samothrace’ in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, and declared that his movement ‘looked for the union of man and machine’. They dreamed of creating a world of biomechanical toys, designed ‘noise machines’ to be used in their musical concerts, and wrote pieces like The Agony of the Machine. One of their plays was about the love of locomotive for its driver. Plein’s fashion show clearly isn’t about aggressive masculinity, but feminine style. Nevertheless, the performance by the machines does take part in the spirit of Futurism as the art of the modern, industrial, machine age.

This fascinates me, as I think that there is room for the use of robots in serious art. Indeed, a feel that artists, musicians and choreographers have made all too little use of these devices in their performances. I know that at a time there was a vogue for people performing dances using forklift trucks to music. Many of these used to appear on children’s programmes, like the awesome Vision On. But this also shows that the artistic potential offered by machines really isn’t taken that seriously. These were amusing diversions for children, rather than serious art. But the potential to use them for high art is there, as the performance art and explorer of cyborgisation, Stelarc, has shown. His performances are, however, a bit too avant-garde for most people. I think, however, that it’s possible to use robots and cybernetics in traditional artistic forms, like music, drama and dance. A little while ago I blogged about a performance of Karel Capek’s robot play, R.U.R. in Prague, by an artistic group dedicated to exploring the implications of robots, using Lego robots. There are already machines like the British Robothespian, which act as guides in science museums. It should be possible to use robots like these in more serious artistic works. The only real problem with this, however, is the cost. These robots at the moment cost tens of thousands of pounds, which makes the use of more than two of them prohibitively expensive.

While I appreciate Plein’s artistic use of robots in his show, I also found them very slightly frightening. This points to a future, perhaps only a decade or so away, in which humans share the world with increasingly sophisticated machines with a great degree of autonomy. It is no longer a wholly human world, and people have to make their way amongst these sophisticated, and physically powerful devices. I don’t believe we’ll ever see a robot revolution, like R.U.R. or The Terminator, despite the pessimistic forecasts of Kevin Warwick in his March of the Machines. But this does seem to prefigure a future in which humanity has to share the planet with its mechanical creations, who have surpassed it in physical power.

Robot Rock Redux: The 1950s French Robot Band ‘Les Robots’

December 8, 2013

Les-Robots-Music-1

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve got an interest in the use of genuine robots in pop and rock music. I’ve previously posted up pieces about the German all-robot band, Compressorhead, who naturally play Heavy Metal. I also put up a piece about how the Ur-androids of synth-pop, Kraftwerk, also used robot replicas of themselves on stage on one of their tours. Now it seems the use of robot musicians goes back even further than that by a couple of decades. The French engineer, Edouard Diomgar, toured fun-fairs, open air markets and even railway stations in the 1950s and ’60s with his robot trio, Les Robots. Called Oscar, Ernest and Anatole, these metal musos played the drums (Anatole), accordion (Oscar) and saxophone (Ernest), so weren’t quite ‘rock’n’roll’. The robots were operated by a series of punch-cards, where were read by photo-electric cells that then passed the information to the robots’ arms and fingers. Diomgar had been a POW of the Germans in World War II. He created Les Robots as a fund-raising exercise for his own charity, which raised money for other POWs. They even pressed a disc, available from Diogra himself. Most of the tracks were pieces composed by other musicians. There was a piece, Rock-Des-Robots, which Diomgar himself had clearly written for them.

There’s a short piece about them on Retronaut. This is a Tumblr site specialising in images from the past. These are often quirky snippets of social or technological events or developments, of which Diomgar and his mechanical musos are clearly one. Photos and descriptions of Les Robots and their record can be found at http://www.retronaut.com/2013/08/les-robots-music/.

Robot Rock: Kraftwerk

November 5, 2013

Okay, I’m aware that I haven’t put any stuff up on here for a little while. I’ve been busy with a few others things, so I’ve been away from blogging. There is, however, a lot of stuff I’d like to reblog here from other sites, like that of Johnny Void and Vox Political, and comment on as well as my own material. So, hopefully, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, as they say in TV land.

I’ve previously put up a piece on the all-robot band, Compressorhead, whose drummer definitely looks like something 2000 AD’s art robot Kevin O’Neill used to draw for the Ro-Busters, ABC Warriors or the Metalzoic strips. Compressorhead appear to have been constructed by two German robotics engineers. The Ur-robot band of them all, the classic Kraftwerk, also came from Germany. One of their songs had the title, The Robots, and the band was so identified with the robot aesthetic that one member even gave his autobiography the title, I Was a Robot. Kraftwerk were one of the pioneers of the use of synthesizers in rock music, and based their robotic image on their use of the instrument and the new, electronic music it could generate. I also read somewhere that one of the other forms of electronic music, Techno, has its ultimate origins way back in the 1930s in one of Arthur C. Clarke’s predictions, this time of what the music of the future would be like.

Kraftwerk themselves were, of course, entirely flesh and blood, despite the title of the autobiography, though their uniform clothing and static immobility does indeed make them almost android-like themselves in performance.. For the Mix tour, however, they had robot copies of themselves constructed, which were programmed to respond to the music in ‘The Robots’. You can’t call it dancing – the machines really don’t have any legs, and just seem to be waving their metal arms around. Despite this, it is an interesting attempt to realise the robotic aesthetic the band expressed in their music. As an aside, the lyrics for ‘Robots’ include two lines of Russian. One of these, pronounced ‘Ya tvoi robotnik’, simply means ‘I am your worker’. ‘Robotnik’ comes from the word ‘robotatch’, to work, and is related to the Czech word, ‘robot’, which itself means ‘serf’ or ‘slave’, which Karel Capek used for the artificial humans in his classic play Rossum’s Universal Robots, and which then entered the English language to describe such machines.

Here’s Kraftwerk’s ‘Robots’ with their robotic dancing . I hope you enjoy it. The video’s on youtube at
doubleshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeXTZOSWIUU.