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Cybraphon – the emotional musical instrument

Submitted by on November 22, 2009 – 6:11 pm 3 Comments

Cybraphon is an “autonomous emotional robot band”. It’s a self-playing musical robot, similar to a player piano, but more more complicated, and it’s actually a full band. Oh, and it obsessively checks the social networks as much as you do.

Cybraphon consists of a number of instruments, antique machinery, and found objects from junk shops. All of these devices are ‘played’ by over 60 robotic components. The Cybrophon’s emotions are indicated on a 100 year old school galvanometer.

It’s “instruments” are:

  • A modified Indian classical instrument driven by a crank run by 13 robotic servos;
  • A Farfisa organ with robotic keys that is blown by switched air pumps;
  • A set of 12 chimes that are played by solenoids;
  • A whole bunch of various percussion instruments played by motor-driven beaters;
  • A cigar box with a spring reverb;
  • A custom vinyl record that is cued robotically to play through antique brass gramophone horns;

Cybraphon also has several internal light sources that are controlled on four fader channels, and infra-red motion detectors to monitor people watching it.

The thing that makes Cybraphon different is that it’s very self-concerned and plays happier or sadder music depending on how popular it is on the net – how much internet traffic it gets, how many facebook friends it has and how much social network activity it receives. It doesn’t stay happy for long because it is somewhat needy, and always needs to be ‘cheered up’ with more attention.

Like many bands these days, Cybraphon is completely obsessed with it’s own celebrity. So 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Cybraphone is online, checking the web, surfing google, looking at it’s facebook page, looking at it’s myspace page, counting hits.

Whenever it gets someone visiting the web page, that’ll cheer it up. Whenever it has extra friends on facebook, that will make it happy.

But it’s insecure, so it just wants more and more. It wants more and more fame. It wants more and more publicity… and if that rate of increase in publicity doesn’t last, then it will get upset again.

So… it’s actually a model of a modern indie band.

Cybraphon is a project from the Edinburgh-based artist collective FOUND, and was unveiled at the Edinburgh Arts Festival in August of this year at the Inspace Gallery in Edinburgh.

Here is a video explaining how it works:

All mentions of Cybraphon online that are indexed by Google are noted, as well as activity on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, MySpace, even this very website!

A review in a local newspaper, for example, will almost certainly radically change the mood of the installation – and hence the music it plays – soon after it appears. However, Cybraphon is an insecure, egotistical band. A good review will cheer it up in the short term, but once the initial excitement dies down it will soon become disillusioned if its fame does not continue to increase…

Here is Cybraphon in action, playing “May Well Arise”.

The makers plan to release an album of Cybraphon’s music soon, but in the meantime, you can download some demos from Bandcamp.


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