So, your human drummer can’t bang out the elaborate breakcore beats you’ve composed, huh? Build your own robotic replacement, putting the magic of positronics into rhythm.

That’s what the folks of Texas Central Positronics and the David Crowder Band have done with Steve_3po, the robotic drummer. It brings new meaning to “drum machine,” blending acoustic sound with programmed rhythms.

The secret to controlling this machine with MIDI is none other than one of our favorite kits, Highly Liquid’s MIDI Decoder. For more on that side of things, see the recent story by Mike Una here on CDM:

DIY MIDI In, MIDI Out For Your Gear: New Kits from HighlyLiquid

The challenging part, of course, is building the robotics. The talented creators at Texas State Technical College, including mechanical engineers Josh Caldwell and Eli Hernandez, worked with “bwack” (the father and son Bwack team) to create Steve. You can read the complete story at Texas Central Positronics, in a post from October:

Introducing – Steve

“bwack” has done other terrific work in the past, including a 760-pound, large-format MPC that stands seven feet tall. And they say drum machines have no soul.

Thanks to Richard Devine for finding this, and Simon Stansfield for bringing it to our attention.

This instrument is not alone among robotic drummers, of course; here are a couple of other top picks:

Glastonbury Festival 2008 was host to this fantastic-looking robotic drummer with four arms and a combination of hydraulics and servos. Sadly, as often happens at these festivals, the credits for who created this lovely invention appear to be lost. Anyone out there know the origins of the work?

Another fine example of robotic drumming comes in the form of Haile, by Georgia Tech’s Gil Weinberg and Scott Driscoll. Haile not only plays the drums, but responds intelligently (via computer) to “heard” sounds and rhythmic patterns. A very early CDM story talked to the creators about how they pulled off the trick.

But wait — there’s more! There are robots responding to plants and playing bamboo and Chinese instruments, an all-robotic band, robotic Theremins, robotic knives, Taiko drummers, robots that play Guitar Hero for you, Game Boy-controller robotic drum machines, Roombas controlled by MIDI, robotic Ballet Mechanique instruments, and, for the holidays, Robotic sleigh ride-playing chimes.

For ensembles filled with unique and creative robotic-powered instruments, look no further than the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots, which recently relocated from here in NYC to tech capital Pittsburgh. One of the most exquisite recent creations from a residency with this group is Zemi17’s wonderful Gamelatron, which, as the name implies, robotifies the Indonesian gamelan ensemble. That instrument visited Handmade Music; here it is at Galapagos in Brooklyn from earlier this year:

Also in the robotic gamelan category, here is Rui Penha’s own contribution (independent of the other project, believe it or not):

Robotic Gamelan from Rui Penha on Vimeo.

A network of several independent robots play some of the javanese gamelan instruments: 2 bonangs, 2 demungs, 3 kenongs, 1 saron, 2 peking and 1 slentem, some gongs and an additional slentem in the near future. This network is controlled by a computer sending serial information using Max/MSP.

In this specific case, all the robots are being played using custom controllers made out of an Ikea salad bowl, an Arduino and two ultrasonic distance sensors.

Best of all, here is Processing-based software for arranging sequences gamelan-style, which can be used to control this instrument (or others). It’s funny, as I had built a similar circular sequencer which I showed briefly in Dublin at the DEAF fest – so perhaps the age of circular, cyclical sequencers is here, to replace all these rectangular step sequencers we’ve had so long. (Similar notation is sometimes used in the analysis of gamelan cycles.)

GameLan from Rui Penha on Vimeo.

To me, most beautiful of all is a set of work called “Felix’s Machines”:

From the description — thanks to opuswerk in comments for reminding me of this:

The Artist, Felix Thorn created this monster which was filmed by Tom Swindell, Directed by Tom Mansfield and edited by Chris Barnet.

Extract from composition: ‘Glide’ recorded and filmed at Gasworks winter 2008.

Chris Barnet the editor channel is here

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Updated: Still more wonderful creations…

Byeong Sam Joen’s “Telematic” Drum Circle, far from the more automated selections here, imagines robotics as a way of encouraging interaction in a group.

Telematic Drum Circle (The 9th Session) @ Siggraph Asia 2008 in Singapore from Byeong Sam Jeon on Vimeo.

Telematic Drum Circle (The 9th Session) @ Siggraph Asia 2008 in Singapore


Artist: Byeong Sam Jeon (

Period: 12/11/2008-12/13/2008

Siggraph Asia 2008: Suntec International Convention Centre (Singapore)

Robotic Installation: Darren Communication Center @ Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY (USA)

It’s designed to be used interactively over the Web. Kyle McDonald has even hacked it for MIDI support:

Telematic Drum Circle (Hacked) from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.

Thanks to our friend, the resourceful and talented Memo Akten, for bringing this to our attention.