David Byrne is keeping busy.
About a year ago, I was approached by some Spanish curators to participate in a show scheduled to open at the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid at the end of this month. I was told the show would be called “Machines and Souls: Digital Art,” so I suggested I work with David Hanson (of Hanson Robotics) to make a quasi-realistic singing robot. Animatronics date at least as far back as Disney’s Lincoln robot delivering part of the Gettysburg address, although Abraham’s delivery all but ignored any emotional fervor.
Having seen some of Hanson’s work at Wired Magazine’s Nextfest—and having heard about it for years before that—I thought it might be time to attempt a collaboration. I immediately thought the robot should perform an action with a weird emotional resonance, like singing. An impassioned speech, laughter, or tears, would have worked just as well, but I had an inkling I could write a short passionate song (in both English and Spanish) for Julio the robot to croon.
Byrne’s interested in exploring the strange effect of the almost-real robot.
“It’s still a work in progress—the movements will be more “natural,” as will his hair,” adds Byrne. “But this definitely demonstrates the creepiness factor at work!”