Sound Machines 2.0: Pneumatics and electrics in harmony

Article of 21 December 2012 

Artistic human-machine interaction: Pioneering automation concepts

Music is as much a part of Christmas as mince pies and mulled wine. Festo  is making music with Sound Machines 2.0. Pneumatic cylinders make strings vibrate, while electric drives determine the harmony.

Sound Machines 2.0 comprises five self-playing musical instruments that combine to produce an intelligent, robot-controlled sound installation. It records any melody played to it, uses it to compose a new piece of music and then plays the new composition live.

Electric/pneumatic joint production

The instruments – a double bass, a viola, a cello and two violins – are  freely suspended to guarantee a high level of sound quality. They work like proper string instruments, but have just one string each. Like a bow in the hands of a musician, a pneumatic cylinder moves a small hammer that makes the string vibrate. An electric drive moves along the string, determining the pitch in the same way as the musician’s left hand. The quintet is controlled by the automation platform CPX. The interplay of the individual components produces an intelligent complete system that responds to the played melody and provides different variations for the input it receives.

Human-machine interaction

The instruments react to any melody played to them according to stored composition rules and reinterpret it. The individual sound robots are networked so that they can “listen” to each other. New variations are continuously being produced that differ from the original theme, but retain the essence of the composition. Someone determines the starting position for further interaction with the machine by entering the melody and by so doing initiates the subsequent process.

Music of the future

The Sound Machines 2.0 installation, realised in cooperation with the artist Roland Olbeter, shows how decentralised components will be networked into self-controlling, mechatronic complete systems in the factory of the future. They can develop their own, autonomous behaviour patterns in the group and make individual decisions themselves. Listen for yourself.