Gil Weinberg is having trouble with his drummer he’s trying to get both of Haile’s arms to work at the same time. That would be an unusual problem, except for the fact that Haile is a robot. Haile’s microprocessor-controlled, motorized arms are able to play ordinary acoustic drums, with expressive control over timbre and dynamics. But while the movements of its anthropomorphic, wooden body are impressive, Haile’s listening ability is as important as its playing. Using custom computer software developed in the Max/MSP multimedia environment. Haile can analyze the performance of a human drummer and respond in real-time “We’ve tried to create a new musical experience- to surprise you,” says Weinberg. Haile’s responses range from simple imitation to variation and even intelligent accompaniment. The results vary: sometimes, the algorithms simply don’t work, or don’t work in a way that makes sense to human ears. But Weinberg, who was a jazz pianist for years before he became interested in computers, is most excited by the moments at which Haile feels like an equal musical partner, and plays in ways no human would.

“I’ve played with people for years,” says Weinberg, “But especially when you’re in a particular genre, you know what to expect Here, we are in uncharted territory” While Haile’s human-robot communication skills continue to evolve, it’s also getting a chance to facilitate human-human communications. Next, Haile travels to Jerusalem to play on a program featuring collaborations between Jewish and Arabic percussionists. The composition is called Jam’aa, or “gathering” in Arabic. Drawing on the communal tradition of Middle Eastern music. Haile will interact with professional darbukah and djumbe players, transforming what they play. At least, once the remaining technical bugs get solved “Talk to me Monday,” says Weinberg; by then, he hopes Haile will be able to play with both arms.

Robotic Drummer:

From the column Made on EarthMAKE 6, page 25 – Peter Kirn.