Review: I Robot 9 June 2010

There were a lot of young people in this session. Not exclusively. Most sat around chatting in pairs. There were less people there by themselves (like me). But enough of them. They tended to sit alone, looking contemplative and lost. Maybe Creative Sydney needs Creative speed-dating? Except that speed dating is tack. (And, apparently, they already have something like it anyway.)

Yoshimi vs. the Pink Robots came on over the stereo, and the curtain fell away to reveal Robbie the Robot behind a pulsing wall of blue light.

β€” We have been programmed by the three laws of robotics intoned a synthesised voice from the stage. One by one it listed them.

The session was laid out like the opening night: interesting things clung to the edges of the hall, while the stage was set up for the main act. Four stalls ran while the session went on. From dorkbot were the Dubtable and Radar Synthesiser. Even Books ran a book stall with lucky-dip book bags and there were pages of robot comics with blank speech bubbles; most people filled these in with human-on-robot domestic banter.

Just as I was thinking that the evening needed more narrative, on the main stage the sound started to go wumble thumble wumble thumble with a high pitched repeated widuw widuw widuw widuw widuw over the top of it.

The lights went out and three blue light sticks popped on on stage. As the lights came back up therewere a blue-hatted man in suspenders and yellow trousers playing a playskool dj machine, someone with a Darth Vader mask in an orange isolation suit playing a pink rabbit-headed rod making high-pitched Mario sounds, and an evil red hearted rabbit-clown with an amplified guitar-hero guitar.

They were Toy Death. And at the end they laid out their modded toys across the stage and we got a closer look.

The Dubtable at the side of the hall plays music controlled by the position of little wooden blocks slid around its light-table. The control mechanism uses optical shape recognition to tell the blocks apart, concentrating on little differences in the patterns which must be obvious to the machine.

Its operator (who I assume was James Nichols) told me that most of the design – computer hardware, software and more traditional table hardware – were all just off-the-shelf bits and pieces. Except for some of the software interfaces, which took some programming. He told me that he’d put together the original prototype in just two weeks.

Near the dub table was a pure silver shiny box that wooped and weeped like a theremin, but was actually Dan Stock’s Radar Synth. As people moved their hands and bodies in front of the wedged horn above the silver box, the sound rumbled like a radiation detector.

Meanwhile, at Even Books’ book table, lucky dips were laid out across a suitcase of books.

Then the robot voice said:

β€” Humans please assemble on the dance floor for the robot dance off. Last human standing will be the ultimate victor.

β€” Humans dance now!

The two-round robot dance off produced a dead heat between Robot 2 & Robot 3. Robot 4, in my opinion, was robbed.

All in all, it was a fun evening. I enjoyed it. The style of the session was more a cabinet of curiosities than a narrative. But the pace of the evening moved smoothly from event to event, much more coherently than the launch night party.

Still, nothing came close to the first cobalt glow of Robbie the Robot standing behind the curtain of blue light.


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