The Orchestrion – Another take on merging the digital with acoustic


I recently stumbled across Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion even though it’s been around for over two years.  I was really blown away by the sound and concept of it (check it out below).  What he did is rather than digitally recreate acoustic sounds to play along with, he used his guitar both to play acoustically and send MIDI information.  He then set up acoustic instruments – pianos, drums, bass, percussion, etc. to accept MIDI information.  The MIDI information essentially was able to trigger the mechanical movement of beaters, keys etc.  The robot instruments were created by Eric Singer at LEMUR -League Of Electronic Musical Urban Robots here in NYC.  (I’ll do a future blog post on the GamelaTron, which was created by my Dubspot collegue Zemi 17, also a member of LEMUR).

Metheny uses Ableton Live as his live performance software to control the robots.  Here are some great quotes from a Sound On Sound Article:

“Most exciting for Metheny are the improvisational possibilities available to him in performing with his Orchestrion. Rather than simply playing on top of sequenced parts, he is in complete control of the parameters of every instrument via Ableton Live and can switch between, say, having a marimba or a vibraphone shadowing the guitar top lines he improvises on stage.

“Live, I’m able to do a lot of variations on things. I can also start with nothing and build a whole world, using Ableton… Ableton is a sort of 3D environment, if you’re using velocity. I can have lots of things kind of lying in wait that I only get to by increasing velocity. So there’s a lot of control aspects of the Orchestrionic instruments that I can do live that are really fascinating. The panorama available is everything from the most composed, the most planned-out to absolutely improvised. And sort of every shade in between.”