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Meet the Italian composer who conducts the world’s biggest all-robot orchestra

Leonardo Barbadoro - Musica Automata - Kickstarter video

Thanks to the digitized instruments found on Pro Tools and GarageBand, any wannabe music producer can command a virtual orchestra in 2018 using no more hardware than a single laptop. If they’re really serious about their craft, they might plug in an MIDI keyboard, a guitar, or a stand-alone sampler to go one step further. That’s nothing compared to Italian electronic music producer Leonardo Barbadoro. For his latest album, he’s still using a computer to program his instruments — but, thanks to some impressive robot technology, the instruments are all real.

In all, Barbadoro’s music is composed using a robot orchestra that’s capable of playing more than 50 acoustic instruments on command. These range from piano and organ to wind instruments and percussion. Barbadoro is able to control these real instruments from his laptop, with the real sound then recorded in a way that he can use it for his compositions. The purpose — perhaps somewhat ironically — is to achieve a more human sound than you’d get from your regular digitally synthesized instruments, due to the playing of actual instruments in a real acoustic space.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“I have been working on this project for a long time now,” he told Digital Trends. “Everything started in 2011 when I was in Ghent, Belgium, to play a show, and a guy there showed me the website of the Logos Foundation. These people have built robots to play acoustic instruments for the past 20 years. It is now the largest robot orchestra in the world. I thought the whole concept was amazing, and finally decided to get in touch with them in 2014. I visited the foundation about 10 times to learn how these instruments work, and then composed and recorded ‘Musica Automata,’ a 10-minute composition for 19 robots controlled by a laptop computer.”

Taken with the versatility of the robots, Barbadoro has expanded this into an album, while also working to build his own robots — including one designed to play an unusual Persian string instrument. To complete the album, Barbadoro is now raising funds on Kickstarter. As a reward, he’s offering the album in various forms, including digital download and vinyl, along with the opportunity to attend a live performance of his robot music.

As ever, we offer our usual cautions about the potential issues that can befall crowdfunding campaigns. However, if you’re interested in getting involved with this blurring of digital music and authentic analog sound, head over to the project’s Kickstarter page for more information. The finished product is due to be delivered in early 2019.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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