Synesthesia — a condition in which you confuse one sense for another, like “hearing” the colour blue — has inspired some amazing art over the centuries, including works from Wassily Kandinsky and David Hockney. But the latest synesthetic art isn’t made by humans at all. A London audio artist has programmed these five robots to make noise when they run across colours — and the result is electronic symphony base on hue.
The creator of Looks Like Music is Yuri Suzuki, a Tokyo-born, London-based audio artist who runs a “invention company,” Dentaku, that builds all manner of ‘bots and audio machines. The installation, which is ensconced an empty side wing of Luxemborg’s Museum of Modern Art this summer, invites visitors to pick up a set of rainbow-coloured markers and go wild on a long piece of white paper. Then, they can place one of Suzuki’s robots on their creation and see how it “sounds:”
So how do the robots make sense of the scribbles? As sensor embedded in the underside of each robot supplies visual feedback, while a program instructs it to follow black lines. Meanwhile, the sensor detects colours and emits a noise for each — a musical notation system based on hue.
The relationship between particular colours and sounds seem to have been chosen at random, rather than research into the condition. That’s somehow a bit disappointing, since it would’ve been fascinating to tailor the associations to how synesthesia occurs in humans — a kind of robotic demonstration of the condition. But it’s fun to see the ‘bots in progress, nonetheless.
Each robot is in charge of a different part of the orchestra, too. For example, “Basscar” is, obviously, the bass line:
While the other ‘bots are each assigned a role, like arpeggio, melody, or percussion:
The installation asks people to collaborate to plan full-fledged tracks — without communication between participants, the whole thing will end up sounding like a bad dubstep mashup. According to Suzuki, that’s the whole idea — as well as raising “public awareness of the way in which sound and music is produced.”
Check it out at Mudam if you’re nearby. Otherwise, best of luck turning your Roomba into a drum machine.