Indonesian robot art strikes New York – the Gamelatron Project



Indonesian sound installation rides Asia-influenced robotics wave to New York

From 6 to 30 June 2013, mechanical sound installation The Gamelatron Bunga Kota is bringing the traditional sound of Indonesia to New York. The robotically generated sound piece is the most recent in a cluster of device art installations from Asia.

Aaron Taylor Kuffner: The Gamelatron Bunga Kota (Flower of the City)', 2013. Installation photographs by Ka-Man Tse for @TSqArts. Image courtesy the artist.

Aaron Taylor Kuffner, ‘The Gamelatron Bunga Kota (Flower of the City)’, 2013. Installation photographs by Ka-Man Tse for @TSqArts. Image courtesy the artist.

The Gamelatron Bunga Kota installation, which is on display in Times Square’s Icon Building, contains 30 bronze gongs and six cymbals which play nine original compositions between three and 19 minutes in length. The music produced is representative of the indigenous Indonesian music gamelan, but instead of being played by musicians the Gamelatron is fully automated, with the music running continuously night and day.

Artist and composer Aaron Taylor Kuffner created The Gamelatron Bunga Kota as part of wider long term initiative “The Gamelatron Project“. According to its website, the project 

draws on the thousand-year-old sonic tradition of Indonesia -Gamelan – and the emerging field of robotics to create magical, viscerally-powerful, site-specific performances and temporary and permanent installations.

The Gamelatron itself, the mechanisation producing the sonic experience, features sets of ornate classic instruments outfitted with robotic counterparts that strike the instruments as programmed. Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI technology, is used to trigger levers to move the mallets and strike the instruments.

Aaron Taylor Kuffner, 'The Gamelatron Bunga Kota (Flower of the City), 2013. Installation photographs by Ka-Man Tse for @TSqArtsPartners. Image courtesy the artist.

Aaron Taylor Kuffner, ‘The Gamelatron Bunga Kota (Flower of the City), 2013. Installation photographs by Ka-Man Tse for @TSqArtsPartners. Image courtesy the artist.

Kuffner, who has a background in street and performance art as well as composition, described the genesis of the Gamelatron Project to Ignite Me blog:

With the Gamelatron, my idea was to create a system where the people without the cultural background or spiritual heritage could partake of the music and still receive the benefits of the beauty, the essence and the legacy without that cultural tradition. It’s a way of popularising gamelan and using that music, that beauty, that grace and making it part of people’s lives who have no cultural context for it. In that path, I had to become a gamelan musician and composer. I weld these mounts, I’m a steel fabricator, I learned how to machine and make these robotic parts and use lathes to turn the mallets. I’m kind of an ad hoc DYI computer engineer. I partnered with Eric Singer, one of the experts on robotic music, in order to cobble together all these different elements to make this project

Robot art in Asia 

The Gamelatron show in New York comes at a time when the interface between art and engineering in becoming increasingly hard to define, as artists across Asia Pacific use technologies once associated with industrial science to explore existing social concepts and new theories.

Samson Young, The Signal Path, (Homage to Alvin Lucier) 2011

Samson Young, The Signal Path, (Homage to Alvin Lucier) 2011. Image courtesy the artist.

Earlier in 2013, a new media and device art exhibition titled “The Innovationist” debuted in Taiwan before making its way to Hong Kong. Showcasing the work of various contemporary artists, including Hong Kong sound artist Samson Young and Taiwanese artist Akibo Lee, the exhibition focused on kinetic and device art. Exhibition curator Joel Kwong told The South China Morning Post that the show was designed to challenge traditional views on the roles of art and audience.

Chris Cheung and XEX GRP, 'Anadelta', 2013. Image courtesy Input/Output Gallery and the artist.

Chris Cheung and XEX GRP, ‘Anadelta’, 2013. Image courtesy Input/Output Gallery and the artist.

Chinese artist Zhang Huan’s 2012 show “Q Confucius” featured a moving robotic human figure representing the philosopher Confucius enclosed in a large metal cage with nine live monkeys. The piece was intended to strike debate on contemporary Chinese society.

For “The Innovationist” curator Kwong, artists working with these new formats are akin to “art alchemists, a group of [inventors] who are initiating a revolution that will have an impact on our society through their creative works.”

AB/CN/JC

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Related Topics: Indonesian art, mechanised art, sound art, robots

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