The Automaton effects unit from audiodamage.com is a unique piece of software. It uses rules from Conway’s Game of Life to trigger variations on whatever audio is sent its way. I’ve used it a lot at home to lend unexpected variation to the loops inherent in instrumental hip-hop. Brian Biggs, who records as Dance Robot Dance, plugged in his guitar. Well, not his guitar, but a guitar loop. The result is doubly refreshing — first, because it’s great to hear people still using the tool, and second, because Biggs had recently posted on his blog that he had been seduced away from his banks of modular synthesizers by a G+L electric guitar. Instead, it turns out that the guitar isn’t a distraction; it’s simply yet another item in his electronic tool shed. The piece by Biggs opens like some old-time Johnny Cash song, and quickly slips into blippy good fun. The guitar, already played with a certain amount of bounce, now ricochets with just enough chaos to make it come alive. It gains a kind of rhythmic sentience. In this case, Biggs’ robots don’t dance; they do a two-step.
It’s clearly more of an experiment than a completed piece of music, but that’s sort of the point. Biggs regularly posts things he’s working on, and to listen to this is to get your ears prepared for what he’ll do next. Here, by the way, is a screenshot of Automaton, showing the classic pixel Petri dish formations of Conway’s Game: