Robot Musicians Perform in Brooklyn, Threatening Local Hipster Population

By Joelle Renstrom | 8 years ago

Robotic Church

Move over, hipsters. Your ranks are about to be infiltrated. And all those girls you get playing the guitar? You’re about to lose them all. The robot musicians are in town.

Brooklyn artist Chico MacMurtrie, founder of Amorphic Robot Works, has been making robots for decades, but these don’t battle to the death; they just want to groove.


They look more like works of art than functioning robots — they’ve got that sparse, bent-wire industrialism, but they have a certain musicbox innocence too, and they’re tortured and beautiful, not unlike hipsters. They make music the way Edward Scissorhands might — by doing things like plucking their own ribstrings, wacking at a xylophone, and dancing across metal. MacMurtrie has 35 computer-controlled sculptures in his orchestra, which will be featured in an installation in Brooklyn called “The Robotic Church.”

Robotic Church

The robotic musicians can perform individually or together, and essentially communicate via the sounds and movements they make, for which they rely on air-supply hoses and cables. They’re all humanish (humanoid isn’t really the right word), intentionally designed to demonstrate humans’ idiosyncrasies and imperfections. They’ve got cuts, welding “scars,” and patches of melted metal. “As our human society is being taken over by technology, we have to reflect and think about the human condition,” MacMurtrie said.

Robotic Church

If thinking about the human condition even more than I already do is the price I have to pay for seeing the robot orchestra in action, so be it. The shows are otherwise free, and will be performed in an old church that used to be Norwegian Seamen’s Church. Huh. So Brooklyn used to have its fair share of Norwegian Seamen? Also, that’s a great combination of fun words to say. I imagine the environment adds a gothic, religious darkness to the whole show, and MacMurtie has certainly drawn inspiration from it — he’s positioned members of his robotic orchestra in the pulpit, balcony, and pews. Robots in church. I hope that goes better than in Battlestar Galactica.


During the show, MacMurtrie is the conductor. He programs over a dozen of his robots with MIDI sequences and they add to the sound, building up bit by bit to a more orchestral sound. While this may sound somewhat frightening or strange, he ultimately hopes the effect on the audience will be uplifting. I’m already uplifted — this is the most awesome thing I’ve seen in a while.

I’m not sure if he’s ready to think about his next project, but I’ve been working on a few ideas as I’ve written this post. I can’t stop thinking about how cool a robotic Edward Scissorhands would be. Or a flying jazz band. But my vote goes to a Dalek dance troupe. Interpretative dance, of course.

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