Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Robots of Brooklyn

Anytime I get to write about music and robots, I am there. And LEMUR certainly fits the bill. I am totally in love with these guys--an irrational, selfish joy of attraction. They have shows coming up all summer, each a mix of live performers with their mechanical contraptions.

When I was a kid, I recall sitting in the storage space under the stairs in my basement and daydreaming about building robots, a fantasy that completely overwhelmed my fascination with the Beatles, drum sets, Batman and everything else.

I have no mechanical ability whatsoever, but the allure of robots was powerful just the same. Maybe it was a power thing--an idle kid (too idle--what were my parents thinking?) out in the sticks dreaming about building a device that would obey his commands. But it wasn't that kind of power that was on my mind: It was the sheer joy in creating something that would move and have a pseudo-life of its own. That's a kind of power too, perhaps even a more base kind. It's the kind that eventually turns a kid to religion, to cosmology and astrophysics, or to art. It turned me into a composer and a writer both.

LEMUR is the vicarious fulfillment of that dream. The acronym stands for League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots. The group has its own space in Brooklyn at 461 3rd Avenue between the Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and Red Hook. Its members are an even mix of composers and engineers, and the central attraction is the orchestra of instrument creatures they build and incorporate into performances.

GuitarBot is my current favorite, a four-stringed instrument in which each string plays itself, turning out a polyphony human guitarists can only dream about. It's loosely mounted on a stand suspended about three and half feet off the floor and it does a little mechanical shimmy as it plays. But GuitarBot is only one of about 50 instruments in the growing arsenal, many of which I haven't seen or heard yet.

The next LEMUR performance is May 29 at the Brooklyn space. Visit the group's website for more concert information, www.lemurbots.org. You can check out a video introduction and demonstration of GuitarBot LEMUR founder Eric Singer. Also written for GuitarBot is a more conventional bit of music by Joshua Fried --the video for Fried's piece gives a more detailed view of the robot in action.


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