Pitch & Sync catches up with the pioneering roboteer musician after his performance at Ciclope
This week saw the eighth annual Ciclope Festival take place in Berlin, celebrating the craft that goes into work in advertising and film internationally. As a creative music agency that considers itself part of this process, we thought it vital that we not only attend but become fully involved with the festival, as musical partners.
Not only did our very own P&S DJ Pat Neligan hit the decks at the Ciclope after party, but we also provided talent in the form of classical trained media artist and robotic musician Moritz Simon Geist. You must be thinking, what exactly is a robotic musician? Well, Moritz is here to redefine what being an electronic musician really means by increasing the already close relationship between man and machine. The amalgamation of music with technology is a storied one and with electronic music sometimes exhibiting a robotic sound, this has always been created purely by humans, with the thought of robots taking over sounding more like a case of science fiction than reality. Whilst Moritz is an integral part of the creative process when creating his music, he uses robots to physically create his compositions. Creating the world’s first album recorded entirely by robots, due for release later this month, we thought that Ciclope would be the perfect place to showcase such an innovative project.
Teaming up with one of Berlin’s most versatile electronic groups Mouse On Mars for the album, it’s sure to be a treat! Combining the contemporary with early electronic styles, the album is sure to be expansive and speak volumes for the state of society today, which owes a great debt to all things electronic. Creating a robotic form of the iconic 808 drum machine, dubbed the ‘MR-808 robot’, Moritz breaks down essential components of electronic music into mechanical parts, essentially stripping techno to its bare bones. Think of him as an ‘robotic roots’ artist, if you will!
We caught up with Moritz himself, who offered us some further insight into his work.
Q> What made you explore composing with robots as opposed to traditional methods?
Moritz> As a musician, I was trained with clarinet, piano and guitar - instruments, which you have to touch to make them sound. Later, when I fell in love with electronic music, I started with computers and synth, but something was missing. So I came up with the idea of crafting my own analog techno machines, that would play for me, but still be physical. To use robots and mechanics, was the obvious choice! Also I studied engineering, so in combining theses two fields, I found a work that is so broad that it still thrills me again and again, every day. I just love to watch machines make sounds in the real world, and go through the world on a quest for sounds that I like and can use for music robots. I recently found a shell at the seaside, and it sounded so good, so I made an instrument of that. The Techno Shell!
Q> Do you think that the industry will move further towards technology or away from it?
Moritz> In exploring all kinds of digital tools we as humans strengthen our capabilities in knowledge and physical impact. Robots and Machine Learning are clearly still an emerging field. But I think the next big thing will be Bio Technology, like real advanced Bio Technology and drugs. If I would study again. I would study chemistry and biology, because I think it has the biggest potential for change. But we also have to keep in mind, as Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google) recently said: "Technology doesn’t solve humanity’s problems. (...) Technology is an enabler, but humanity has to deal with humanity’s problems." In my honest opinion, this applies to science, IT, politics as well as art.
Q> The 808 is such an iconic piece of tech. What was the inspiration behind creating your MR-808 robot?
Moritz> By the end of 2009 I was starting to explore sound experiments from German electronic pioneers from Cologne, like tape loops, generative composition etc. I rebuilt some of their experiments, but wanted to make music with it. I was searching for a concept that would enclose my random experiments. So one night at a bar, I had the idea of creating a big robotic 808. People called me crazy. If I would have known that it would take me 3 years to finish, I probably wouldn't have started. But I'm very good at self-delusion and self-exploitation. So I started building and over time I discovered a lot of aspects: that seeing how something moves and makes sound automatically is really thrilling. That the natural sound works much better for me in electronic music - and that the errors that my DIY instruments implement in the music and groove are actually pretty organic and good sounding. In my new album, which is out end of this week, I try to incorporate all that!
Q> You’ve already collaborated with Mouse on Mars. Are there any other electronic artists that you’d be keen to collaborate with?
Moritz> Aphex Twin did an EP some years ago, using robots from Logos Foundation. Logos' music robots were more aiming for automatic classical instruments like trombone, piano etc. With my robots I have built something that hasn't been done before, and give them a futuristic feeling, from sound and visuals. I would really like to see what RDJ would do to my robots.
Q> Given your classical background, do you think you’ll look to explore this genre further in the future using robots?
Moritz> Definitely. This has been my life for 6 years full time already and probably some years to come. What really stresses me out is the daily routine of the music business and self-employment like invoicing, taxes, organising travels and writing emails which eats up half of my day or more. If I could I would have a wonderful sunny 100sqm workshop - studio and build and play with robots all through the day. There's nothing more positive for me than making music.
As ever we’d like to thank the organisers of Ciclope for having us involved this year. It’s one not to have missed.