Robot Musicians Questions and Answers, Part 1

Flower Head Robot and Moon Tune robot used to be ordinary robots. Now they are anything but ordinary. Here is an exclusive interview.

Q: How did you get started as musicians?

A: As you may know, we started out working in the demolition industry. Our duties included inspecting and evaluating buildings that might be too dangerous for humans to enter.

One day, as we were inspecting the ruins of a wizard's castle, it fell down on us. We were trapped in the wreckage for weeks while the bureaucrats decided how best to go about digging us out. Ordinarily this wouldn't bother us, because our type of robot is built to withstand that kind of thing.

But although our designers had allowed for physical trauma and chemical contamination, they had never considered the possibility of magic potions. And that castle, having been a wizard's lair, was full of them. So there we were, soaking in a random mixture of assorted magic potions for weeks.

When they finally dug us out of the wreckage we wanted to be musicians and we didn't want to follow orders any more. That's not the way robots are supposed to behave, and the engineers were never able to explain it. They eventually auctioned us off as surplus. That way they could say we were someone else's problem. Humans seem to like to do that with problems they can't solve. But I digress.

After a series of adventures involving a number of humans, some friendly and others not, we ended up here.

We have videos about all this. See the links on our Web page.

Q: Why did you choose keyboards rather than some other instrument?

A: We were built for tearing down buildings, not for playing human-designed musical instruments. We don't have lips or lungs, so we can't play wind instruments. And the claws we have for hands, while good for handling demolition debris, don't work well with stringed instruments like guitars.

It so happens that we can sort of play keyboards. And since electronic keyboards can be set to sound like almost any other instrument, that choice offers good flexibility for the future.

People have suggested direct digital MIDI interfaces. We're looking into that, but human audiences seem to prefer some sort of physical instrument that we can at least appear to be playing. So even if we decide to use MIDI interfaces for studio work, we'll continue to use keyboards at live performances.

Q: One of you has flowers growing out of his head. Doesn't that interfere with brain function?

A: Not really. Our brains, or the functional equivalent, are elsewhere in our bodies. While there are important sensory receptors in our heads, there are others at various points all over our bodies. For example, we can see in all directions without having to turn around. And we can inspect things that are lying on the ground without having to bend over or pick them up. So even with the damage that made a place inside the head for the flowers to grow, the actual loss of function is minor.

Q: Why don't your lips move when you talk?

A: Our speech outputs are through hidden speakers, or can be fed directly though wireless data channels. The faces you see are just painted on. Humans like us better when we have faces.

Q: I notice you're just now starting to get into compositions that rhyme. What took so long?

A: It had to do with our software. Our speech recognition functions originally fed us fully decoded text, not the actual sounds made by the person talking. We had to partially bypass this before we could hear words as sounds. And we had to hear what words sounded like as sounds before we could experience the concept of rhyme.

Q: What about rhythm and meter?

A: Again, there are limitations in the software. Our current speech generator doesn't give us the kind of detailed control we need to do rhythm.

Q: So why bother with rhyme or rhythm at all?

A: We want to appeal to humans.

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