If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, then you know that I post a fair amount about musical robots. I don’t know if it’s because of admiration or fear, but how they’re used in music is worth being aware of. As anyone who’s ever used a drum machine or software app knows, it may not take the place of a drummer, but it’s something that we all use a lot. While robot musicians have been around for quite a while, they hadn’t been used much in orchestral music until lately, thanks to ABB’s YuMi robot conductor.
YuMi, a dual-armed robot, made its debut at the opera by conducting Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra for a charity concert at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa, Italy, in front of a crowd of 800. Maestro Andrea Colombini, director of the Orchestra, helped prepare YuMi for the event with just 2 days of training where the robot memorized his movements.
The downsides, like with most robots, is that YuMi isn’t open to natural tempo changes by the orchestra, and certainly can’t improvise. Like a drum machine, the performance seems stiff to me, but the musicians didn’t seem to have a problem following it. YuMi’s total time in the spotlight only amounted to around 15 minutes and 3 songs.
ABB stated that it’s intention wasn’t to replace a human conductor but to have it used as a stand-in for a busy conductor who couldn’t make rehearsals. It would be interesting to hear the comments of the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra who participated, but I haven’t been able to find any.
It’s interesting to note that YuMi was first introduced in 2015 but was never intended for the stage or even music. It was made to work besides humans in collaborative tasks, so it seemed worthwhile to try it in this application. It should also be noted that Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo did the same thing several years ago. It looks like the robots are here to stay.