Do Androids Dance With Electric Sheep?: An Examination of Music For And By Robots

Recently Squarepusher released an EP called “Music For Robots” on Warp Records. The EP featured typical Squarepusher tropes: frantic breakbeats, virtuoso jazz bass and guitar, and those melancholy chords. What makes this Squarepusher EP so special is that while it was written by Squarepusher, the EP was performed by The Z-Machines, a trio of robots. “Music For Robots” wasn’t just for mechanical men, it was also by them.

By now Squarepusher has said he wanted to challenge the perspective of how we view music with this EP. The idea was that music played by robots could still be emotionally engaging is the idea spurred out of this, but let’s be honest, it still had a human touch. The writing was done by a human, specifically Squarepusher, but played by robots who are essentially giant sequencers. As Squarepusher pointed out in an interview with NPR, it’s not much different than when he used drum machines on his 1997 album Hard Normal Daddy, these drum machines just hit real drums.

Furthering this, the younger generation is presently obsessed with electronic music, which often lacks the traditional instrumentation that gives the “human element” to music. So the real question is why does a distinction matter? Sure, the music you might hear your favorite DJ playing is coming from their laptop or CDJs, but that doesn’t make you any less likely to dance than say a full band running through funk classics.

Consider Tycho for just a second. His last two albums Dive and Awake are sun drenched and sand covered trips to the coastline that evoke more emotions than a bland generic band with your typical bass, guitar, drums setup. So why does Squarepusher feel it necessary to try to make a distinction between music by robots and music by humans? Would it be any different than Tycho programming a drum machine through MIDI because someone doesn’t “actually play” an instrument? While Squarepusher and The Z-Machine’s “Music For Robots” is a fun project, it really isn’t causing waves in a technological generation.

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