We’ve heard about artificial intelligence creating code for virtual pedal plugins, but what if machines could do more than just create gear? What if, in some not-too-distant future, robots could actually play the gear they create?
It’s a hypothesis that’s currently being loosely tested by One Hacker Band on Instagram, who is assembling a burgeoning clan of ragtag robotics components to become a fully functioning, entirely human-less cover band.
Before you start worrying that an army of angry Terminator-style robots hell-bent on overthrowing the guitar charts is in the works, there are some caveats to this particular project. Namely, these “robots” aren’t AI robots at all – just wired and programmed servo parts, curated in order to play their respective instruments.
So far, One Hacker Band’s group comprises electric guitar, bass guitar and drums, with each custom, streamlined instrument relying on an assortment of animatronics, custom-made picking mechanisms and moveable drum stick holders to perform their respective parts.
As a musical creation, it’s something special indeed, but as a feat of engineering it’s truly eye-opening. It’s perhaps the most technologically oriented “band” of today – which is saying something in this age of digitally enhanced performance – but one that connects the worlds of futuristic technology with basic tools of rock ‘n’ roll.
If, however, the project does get out of hand and guitar-playing robots are unleashed into the wild, we can at least rest easy knowing they’ve got fantastic taste in music – because One Hacker Band has programmed them to play some of rock’s biggest and best hits.
These include Metallica’s Enter Sandman – which the three-piece tackles with impressive ease – as well as Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, Aerosmith’s Walk this Way, Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust and Michael Jackson’s Beat It. Yes, the robot guitar does play the riff, and yes, it nails it.
One Hacker Band’s crew has also smashed Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, with the robot guitarist excelling at the grunge-y powerchord progressions.
The most glaring issue, though – other than it threatens to put human musicians out of work if they start getting too good – is that, as the old saying goes, ‘tone is in the hands’. In our minds, it’s hard for such creations to have any nuanced tone if… well, if they don’t actually have hands.
Having said that, the point here doesn’t seem to be to painstakingly recreate a human instrumental touch, merely explore what’s possible when the worlds of robotics and music come together. And, regardless, the robot trio massively outperforms in our estimation of what they should sound like on paper. For that, we give kudos.
Covers aren’t the only thing this tech band is good at. Not only can the robotics be triggered to accompany One Hacker Band’s own guitar playing – via a wearable, ingeniously crafted control glove – the band can also play its own original material.
Using the Magenta Studio plugin in Ableton, which uses machine learning techniques for music generation, the intrepid engineer curated a range of artificially generated riffs and hooks, which the band had no issue performing.
We have to admit, the “band” is already at an impressive level, but according to One Hacker Band, it’s only going to get better. Currently, only three guitar strings are available for use, owing to the various mute mechanisms in place to stop the guitar from strumming out of control.
As such, a V2 guitar is on the way, which will give an expanded servo set access to 12 strings. Hopefully that means some robot guitar solos are on the way…
To see the robot band in action and to follow its development, head over to One Hacker Band’s Instagram page.