Interview with LEMUR

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In this interview, we interview Eric Singer from the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR), a musical robot band that has worked with They Might Be Giants.

KM: What would you say defines the future of music for you, and has that future already arrived?


The future has been arriving for decades now. There are now so many tools available to musicians to construct and control sound that it's practically overwhelming. The next future, which is gaining momentum, is the creation of new musical instruments and controllers of all sorts. They bring (back) an exciting element to live performance. LEMUR's instruments are an example of both sound creation tools and new performance instruments.

KM: Aside from LEMUR members and collaborators, who (living, dead, or fictional characters) would you include for a super team of music invention, and why?


That's a hard one. There has been an explosion of talented and brilliant instrument designers. One only has to attend a NIME conference or look at the proceedings to see the breadth and depth of new instrument creation. I can name a few of inspiring creators who are historical stalwarts of new musical instrument and interface creation and performance: Max Mathews, Joe Paradiso, Perry Cook, Roger Dannenberg, Richard Boulanger, David Wessel, Michael Waiswitz...the list goes on.

KM: What have been your favorite experiences with LEMUR collaborators?


There have been so many, with both established artists and up-and-comers. All of the collaborators (many of whom are listed on the LEMUR site) have brought their own approach to composing for and performing with the instruments.

I'd say the best project to come out of a collaboration though is the Gamelatron, a collaboration between Taylor Kuffner (aka Zemi17) and LEMUR. This grew out of Taylor's residency at LEMURplex in 2007. Taylor is a composer and performer steeped in and very knowledgable about the gamelan and the music of Indonesia. After his residency performance, I said that we should create a fully robotic gamelan on which Taylor could continue to perform. Our collaboration continues to this day, and Taylor has expanded into creating spectacular site-specific Gamelatron installations in addition to regular performances.

KM: Do you have any recommendations for online resources that musical innovators can benefit from?

LEMUR: proceedings are the best place to start. They go back over ten years and include innovations of all kinds. The bibliographies will lead you to other resources. Also, Make Magazine's blog has a ton of resources for would-be inventors of instruments and other projects.

KM: What do you think of DIY movements, such as the appearance of Makerspaces and Hackerspaces around the world?


I think it's the biggest socio-technological movement since the Web (though smaller in scale of course). It's changing the international conversation on what it means to invent, create, manufacture, learn, etc. It is amazing how many people of all ages and backgrounds the movement has brought into the world of art, technology, fabrication and invention. The egalitarian nature of DIY practitioners - expressed through teaching, sharing of ideas, collaboration and an open source ethos - is bringing much-needed reform to attitudes about intellectual property. I believe this is highly significant.

KM: What has been your experience with MakerFaires?


We have been in the NY Faire and the Pittsburgh Mini-Maker Faire. Both were great experiences in that we got to interact with a diverse audience, from curious lay-people to like-minded techies and geeks. The level and range of approaches to inventing and problem-solving at Maker Faires is mind-boggling.

KM: Eric, it has been about a year since you spoke about Nucleus at dorkbotpgh. How has the support for Nucleus and LEMUR been like from the dorkbot community?


Virtually everyone I talk to about the idea is excited about the prospect. It is a long road to opening the kind of space we want to create, but it's moving forward. We expect to debut in 2013.

KM: What are your goals with Nucleus?

The main mission is two-fold: - to provide access to knowledge and tools to all who are interested in art, technology, fabrication and Maker culture; and - to be a central hub for bringing together like-minded people and groups to foster community, collaborations and cross-pollination of ideas.

KM: Any closing advice for musical innovators?


Experiment! Build something. Try it out. Fix it. Hand it to others and see what they do with it. Redesign based on these experiences. When it's ready *and* robust, show it everywhere you can.