Meet Z-Machines, Squarepusher's new robot band

Tom Jenkinson is pushing musical hardware to its limit by working with a mechanised 78-fingered guitarist and a 22-armed drummer

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The robots are taking over. OK, so they're not about to gain sentience and enslave us, Skynet-style, quite yet – but let's just say some of today's more perfunctory pop stars ought to be looking over their shoulders. Last year, German boffins constructed a robot band called Compressorhead who brought a new meaning to the term "heavy metal" with their scarily on-point renditions of rock classics such as Ace Of Spades and AC/DC's TNT. In Sweden, students at the KTH Royal Institute Of Technology are building a robot version of singer Robyn (although it's still a long way off usurping the human version).

Now, brainy electronica stalwart Tom Jenkinson AKA Squarepusher has teamed up with a band of Japanese robots for his latest EP, helpfully titled Music For Robots. Z-Machines are a "power trio" consisting of March, a 78-fingered guitarist; Ashura, a drummer with 22 arms; and Cosmo, a keyboardist who triggers notes with lasers. After working with various Japanese composers, chief roboticist Kenjiro Matsuo personally reached out to Jenkinson, who says that taking part was a no-brainer. "I immediately agreed. It's the ultimate 12-year-old boy's fantasy. 'Work with a band of robots?' Yeah. Obviously." His enthusiasm is not surprising considering Jenkinson is famed for embracing new technology and reimagining how musical hardware can be played, often producing results that baffle those who invented the equipment. For him, it was a chance to see what can happen when you go beyond the realms of what a human being can physically play, as well as redefining our expectation of what makes a band a band.

"Can you expect people to work up enthusiasm for what is essentially a big group of server motors and pneumatic fingers?" wonders Jenkinson. "You can't go, 'This is what they were feeling when they wrote this,' because there's nothing there. It's just a load of electric motors. If you criticise guitarists who shred for being egotistical, what happens when they're played by a robot that doesn't have an ego?" These are all perfectly legitimate questions, but ones that might lead you to think the EP could be a slightly pretentious thought experiment. But Squarepusher fans needn't worry; it still contains his signature mangling of drum'n'bass breaks, lightning-quick basslines and unpredictable zig-zags, it's just that this time there's a slightly glitchy robotic edge to it all.

So maybe this is the future. Teenagers putting up posters of egoless electronic axe-men who, instead of a pout and a leather jacket, have cables for mullets and play with a cold-hearted precision that makes a T-1000 look like a hysterical mess. If nothing else, they should be on time for gigs.

Music For Robots is out on Monday on Warp


Lanre Bakare

The GuardianTramp

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