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CalArts KarmetiK Machine Orchestra Take Electronic Music To New Level

karmetik-robot-orchestraBy Mike Murphy for KHTS

Ajay Kapur, head of Calarts Music Technology Department and Michael Darling, head of the Technical Theatrical Directions Department have drawn from their respective areas of expertise to create something new and innovative.

The Karmetik Machine Orchestra (karma and kinetic), takes electronic music to a new level. Unlike electronic music which uses synthesized instrumental sounds, the orchestra is, as Kapur puts it, "retro", creating "organic" music using traditional instruments. Darling points out that this is a collaborative effort. A student with the expertise can build the machine, while another can create the software to run it, while still another can compose and perform the music.


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The robots act as an extension of the musician. He or she can play a traditional instrument and through a computer interface, add a myriad of sounds using the machine performers. This is realized by a variety of sensors built into instruments, attached to hands or using light to add the sounds of the machines. The robots, particularly the percussion players, are capable of doing things a human musician couldn't possibly do, giving the Karmetik orchestra a unique sound.

The non-human musicians include Tammy (a large machine that creates bells and marimba sounds), Glockenbot (with the chimey sound of a glockenspiel), and MahaDeviBot (a twelve-armed percussion instrument), appropriately named after an all-encompassing female deity of Hinduism. The roster is expanding and revising as more of the student body and faculty become involved. A guest appearance in January by renowned sound artist and musician, Trimpin, added a new robot musician, featuring electric string instruments and more.

The orchestra began performing nearly two years ago at REDCAT (The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex in downtown LA. The ensemble of musicians, technicians and dancers followed that performance with dates in New Zealand and Australia. They have returned for three dates this year at Cal Arts. You say you missed them? Not surprising. Though the Orchestra has received considerable press and exposure on-line, this innovative art form has not been the talk of the Santa Clarita Valley. That may change in April. A new production, still in the formative stages, will include still more of the disciplines offered at Cal Arts.

The brainchild of student Raakhi Sinha, the production will be based on The Panchatantra, a group of morality tales along the lines of Aesop's Fables. It will incorporate the KarmetiK Orchestra, dancers, students from the drama department, videos and more. The performance promises to be an unforgetable experience.

For information on all the exhibits and performances at CalArts and at REDCAT got to calarts.edu.