Last Friday, a special event took place at the National Theater of Korea. A robot called EveR 6 led an orchestra in a performance of Korean music. Robots have led orchestras in other countries, but this was the first time ever in Korea.
EveR 6 is a robot built by the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology (KITECH). It’s about as tall as a person, and has a human-like face that can show emotions. EveR 6 has joints in its neck, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. As a result, it can move its arms quickly and smoothly in many different directions.
But EveR 6 doesn’t think on its own like some advanced Artificial Intelligence programs. Instead, it has a limited group of movements that it has been trained to perform. To make these movements as natural as possible, EveR 6’s movements are based on motions “captured” from real human conductors.
In Friday’s performance, the National Orchestra of Korea presented a concert titled “Absence”. The concert included five different pieces of music. Two were conducted by EveR 6, and two were conducted by Soo-Yeoul Choi, who leads the Busan Philharmonic Orchestra. Both conductors worked together on the final piece.
When EveR 6 swung its baton for the first time, a gong rang out. Every movement of the robot’s arms brought more instruments into the mix, and the orchestra’s music grew louder and more exciting.
Mr. Choi was impressed with the way EveR 6 moved. “The robot was able to present such detailed moves much better than I had imagined,” he said.
But the robot still is not nearly ready to replace a human conductor. Mr. Choi says the robot’s greatest weakness is that it can’t hear. “Some people think that conducting is just a combination of hand waving and keeping the beat,” says Mr. Choi. But a good conductor needs to listen to the orchestra, so that he or she can correct and encourage the orchestra as it plays.
Mr. Choi and EveR 6 worked together to conduct the concert’s most surprising piece of music. It was called “Sense”, and, unusually, it was not written with musical notes. Instead, it had instructions for how to play the piece. The conductors and the musicians had to work together to create the music. Mr. Choi was responsible for communicating with the musicians, while EveR 6 kept the beat steady.
Mr. Choi said that once EveR 6 started, the musicians had “no choice but to follow its beats.” He said this created a situation where “the performers have to communicate and ‘sense’ each other to follow the precise beats.”
Mr. Choi doesn’t think robots are likely to replace human conductors. But he believes robots could be helpful in situations like practice sessions where the same thing needs to be repeated many times.
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