by Melissa T. Miller

Swedish composer Fredrik Gran programs robotic arms to play bowed instruments like the cello and double bass. He also plays duets with the robots, blurring the lines between the musician and the music itself. The robot arms do make some mechanical noise as they move, but it blends into the sound of the instruments. The robots’ intended purpose is for automated assembly lines in the automotive, healthcare, or food industries, instead, here, they make music. 

All the movements the robots use to make music come from the same abilities they need for their day jobs. But it’s still remarkable to see it applied in this way. It’s automated, but the listener still feels a swell of emotions, and the robots seem to come alive as they play their instruments. We found out about these unique performances thanks to Laughing Squid.

Based on his social media feeds, Gran has experimented with many uses of robotic arms in music. He also uses them to create feedback effects, moving a microphone around other equipment. For a more intense performance of robot music, check out the Instagram video below.

The robotic arms can also tune the instrument and prep the bow with rosin before playing their robot music. There are plenty of uses for robotic arms other than assembly lines, like lifting heavy objects or even DIY surgery. But this is definitely the most soothing. 

A robot playing the cello and other other bowed instruments that makes music with its human programmer and composer
Fredrik Gran

Gran’s robots give off some real Noonian Soong vibes. The videos remind me of a great Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. In “The Inheritance,” Data meets his mother. They play violin and viola duets together in Ten Forward, which is how he realizes that she is also an android. No human could play the exact same way two performances in a row.