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The Late Movies: Robots in Music

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Composers are notorious for their antisocial streak, and musicians are notorious for their lazy streak"¦ so why not skip the turtlenecks, rehearsals, per diems, unions, living out of a van, all the drug problems -- and let the Toasters deal with it? Here are ten videos that just might answer the question.

League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR), founded by Eric Singer, have built a four-necked self-playing instrument called Guitar Bot. In this video, it performs The EmergencyBot TV Theme.

Just when you thought Jazz was safe from the robot invasion, guitarist Pat Metheny has built an entire orchestra called The Orchestrion.

In 2009, Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk recorded the first-ever man vs. machine drum battle. In this video, his Drumkit From Hell programming duels against drum virtuoso, Marco Minnemann.

In the late '80s, Frank Zappa (the man who asked, "Does humor belong in music?") outsmarted us all, quit playing with humans altogether, and retreated to his basement with a half-million-dollar contraption called The Synclavier. In this interview, he explains why.

Captured! By Robots is a band from San Francisco, led by a human inventor named JBOT, who was"¦ well, the name says it all. Here, they perform Don't Stop Believin' by Journey.

And who says robots can't surf? Look out, Dick Dale"¦

The Mighty Wurlitzer is a theater organ originally designed to accompany silent movies. The multiple keyboards trigger real percussion, woodwinds, brass"¦ an entire self-contained orchestra. But here's the best part"¦ it can also be programmed via standard midi. Don't tell Danny Elfman.

Toyota has taught their own robots to play violin"¦

And on occasion, a mean baritone horn solo.

Animusic, a company founded by Wayne Lytle, doesn't only make fake music, but fake robots to go along with it. In this video, a Yamaha Piano plays along with an animated band.

Don't let Lieutenant Commander Data fool you. At this rate, we know which superior beings will figure out how to whistle long before the 24th century. It can't be that hard, right?

Carl King lives in Los Angeles and has never owned a car. His upcoming book on creative careers will be published by MWP in 2011. You can read about his latest existential crisis over at


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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
Can’t See the Eclipse in Person? Watch NASA’s 360° Live Stream
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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Depending on where you live, the historic eclipse on August 21 might not look all that impressive from your vantage point. You may be far away from the path of totality, or stuck with heartbreakingly cloudy weather. Maybe you forgot to get your eclipse glasses before they sold out, or can't get away from your desk in the middle of the day.

But fear not. NASA has you covered. The space agency is live streaming a spectacular 4K-resolution 360° live video of the celestial phenomenon on Facebook. The livestream started at 12 p.m. Eastern Time and includes commentary from NASA experts based in South Carolina. It will run until about 4:15 ET.

You can watch it below, on NASA's Facebook page, or on the Facebook video app.

Cephalopod Fossil Sketch in Australia Can Be Seen From Space

Australia is home to some of the most singular creatures alive today, but a new piece of outdoor art pays homage to an organism that last inhabited the continent 65 million years ago. As the Townsville Bulletin reports, an etching of a prehistoric ammonite has appeared in a barren field in Queensland.

Ammonites are the ancestors of the cephalopods that currently populate the world’s oceans. They had sharp beaks, dexterous tentacles, and spiraling shells that could grow more than 3 feet in diameter. The inland sea where the ammonites once thrived has since dried up, leaving only fossils as evidence of their existence. The newly plowed dirt mural acts as a larger-than-life reminder of the ancient animals.

To make a drawing big enough to be seen from space, mathematician David Kennedy plotted the image into a path consisting of more than 600 “way points.” Then, using a former War World II airfield as his canvas, the property’s owner Rob Ievers plowed the massive 1230-foot-by-820-foot artwork into the ground with his tractor.

The project was funded by Soil Science Australia, an organization that uses soil art to raise awareness of the importance of farming. The sketch doubles as a paleotourist attraction for the local area, which is home to Australia's "dinosaur trail" of museums and other fossil-related attractions. But to see the craftsmanship in all its glory, visitors will need to find a way to view it from above.

[h/t Townsville Bulletin]


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