KUKA robots represent the pinnacle of mass production. Their pre-programmed precision movements are key in the manufacturing of everything from Chryslers to Coca-Cola.
Turns out, they’re also crackerjack artists. In a project called Valse Automatique by Hermann Weizenegger, Studio NAND and MADE in Berlin, a KUKA robot learned how to interact with art in a live, dynamic performance. As violinist Mihalj “Miki” Kekenj performed an original waltz, the KUKA visualized the music by milling an interpretive wax sculpture in real time (and then finishing it with a flashy torching from a Bunsen burner).
Rather than carve from a template, the KUKA robot creates a unique sculpture that captures a song at one place and time; in effect, it mass produces single experiences. “We have built a set of rules into the process of abstraction which makes it repeatable and thus in principle re-translatable,” explains Studio NAND’s Stephan Thiel, who was responsible for much of the software glue that enabled KUKA to interpret the music. “Thus, we don’t see the objects as abstractions, rather as transformations or visualizations.”
To call Valse Automatique complex would be an understatement. Specialists across a variety of fields had to pool their expertise to make the project possible. But ironically enough, Thiel admits that their approach is still rudimentary in comparison to where it can go. “Imagine a set of objects which represent classical compositions and allow a visual comprehension and comparison of the music,” he says, calling the project “a very simple form of visualization” that could eventually help us “understand music in different ways.”
As if any of us needed another reason to buy one of these awesome robot arms.