Adventure in music: Three Pieces installation

Distorted Loop’s Scottish readers can feast their ears on Simon Kirby and the Found Electronics collective’s extended digital-cum-analogue-cum-organic music installation at the beautiful Victorian Palm House of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.
Dubbed ‘Three Pieces’, the installation sees a Chinese dulcimer and 12 chimes played robotically, controlled by two Arduinos. Motion detectors and a soil sensor allow us to react to people in the space and to the state of the plants to remix the music.

Three Pieces is a composition for plants, yangqin, bamboo robot and robotic chimes, designed as a collaboration between robots, traditional instruments, and living things. A traditional Chinese dulcimer is played by a robot with many bamboo fingers while the surrounding foliage hides an ensemble of robotic chimes. Despite being separate individuals, the robots communicate and perform together. The robot performers are conducted by all the living things in the Palm House. The moisture content of the soil changes slowly as the plants absorb water, while on a much faster timescale, the temperature changes in the building as animals, including humans, move about. The installation detects this living presence in the Palm House and the music changes accordingly. The robots react to humans, but their mood alters with the plants.
The sum of all these parts is a strange combination of traditional and modern, organic and electronic, nature and artifice. Despite being composed in advance, the music will never be exactly the same twice, in part because it will change in response to the environment and audience, and also because the robots are a combination of accurately machined parts (e.g. mechanical solenoids) and natural materials (e.g. bamboo canes).

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