In the darkness of an indoor car park in London’s Soho, a crowd of people is gathered around a dancing industrial robot. In front of it, soprano Teresa Duddy stands singing her heart out, willing the robot to fall in love with her, as it moves languidly, clasping a light that sways with the music. This is the opening night of artist Conrad Shawcross’ work The ADA Project, in which he hacked and programmed the robot to create four unique choreographies and then commissioned four renowned female musicians—Beatrice Dillon with Rupert Clervaux, Holly Herndon, Mira Calix and Tamara Barnett Herrin with Mylo—to create music inspired by the robot’s dance.
Shawcross drew inspiration for the project from Ada Lovelace, the mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron, who worked with Charles Babbage, inventor of the first proto-computer. The visionary Lovelace spoke of the potential to use of computers for other things than mathematics, saying they “might act upon other things besides numbers… the Engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”
As evidenced by Ada’s quote, the relationship between man, machines and music has been a source of fascination for centuries, and today it’s evolving at such a quick speed we barely think of it anymore. Beautiful and thought provoking, the ADA Project hints at ways in which music and technology could intersect in the future. And for the exhibition itself, the soprano singer has been replaced with a piece of equipment that exemplifies another music/technology connection, once high-tech but now a thing of the past—a jukebox.
The Vinyl Factory and Conrad Shawcross’ The ADA Project is at The Vinyl Factory Space at Brewer Street Car Park, 11–31 October 2014.