COFFEE BREAK | Swedish Composer Fredrik Gran Writes Cello Music For Sensitive Robots

By Anya Wassenberg on October 4, 2022

Image of cello by Ri Butov (CC0C/Pixabay)
Image of cello by Ri Butov (CC0C/Pixabay)

Swedish composer Fredrik Gran has been writing music for robots for a few years now. His Cello Concerto No. 1 (2019) was commissioned by noted Swedish contemporary music ensemble KammarensembleN (SE), and sponsored by the Swedish Arts Council and KUKA Robotics.

As Gran describes it:

“The ‘robot cellist’, a non-human entity at the intersection of performer and instrument, consists of two industrial robotic arms playing a cello. The composition explores the specific and unique playing techniques afforded by this system, underlines the idiomatic potential of the robot cellist and investigates its anthropomorphic characteristics and their scenographic implications. The robot cellist has developed individual playing style and techniques along with a reflexive compositional perspective.”

The project is ongoing, and Gran recently posted a video demonstrating the robot cellist’s capabilities. You can judge its talents for yourself.

Gran uses the same type of robot that can be seen in automotive assembly lines, which already require a certain level of dexterity. The robot arms can rosin their bows and tune the instrument as well. He’s programmed them to be sensitive enough to play with subtlety and dynamic range, and sometimes plays duets with them. He’s also written for robot double bass.

His robot cellists maintain an enviable concert schedule in his native Sweden, sometimes playing with other instrumentalists.

Who is Fredrik Gran?

After initial studies at the Music Academy in Stockholm, Gran completed his doctoral research at McGill University in Montreal in connection with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology.

Gran’s works have been performed widely at festivals and concerts throughout Scandinavia and Europe, along with Tokyo. He’s worked with ballet and opera companies, as well as orchestras and chamber ensembles.

And robots.

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