It’s a drone‘s world and we are just living in it. At least that’s the impression one gets as the flying, robotic buggers find new and unexpected ways to buzz into our daily lives. As Amazon and the FAA embark on a battle over aerial delivery regulations, and John Oliver calls into question our military drones’ ability to make children in other countries “fear the sky,” a future where drones are as common as cars seems more than just a possibility, but a near certainty.
John Cale, of the 1960s experimental rock group Velvet Underground, wished to artistically explore the increasingly complex relationships we have with drones, and contacted architect and futurist Liam Young, who was engaged in the same theoretical debate. “If drones become increasingly pervasive technologies,” asks Young, “If they become really familiar and everyone starts to have one, and if they are eternally in our skies just like pigeons, then how might we start to relate to them?” What resulted from Cale and Young’s two years of conversations and planning was Loop>>60Hz: Transmissions from the Drone Orchestra, a multi-media performance piece commissioned as part of the Digital Revolution Exhibition at London’s Barbican Theater, in which drones, dressed as costumed “characters,” interact with one another in a choreographed dance above the heads of the audience, while Cale’s band performs on stage. The Creators Project, in conjunction with Intel and Vice, shared the project in a short documentary, which follows Cale, Young and team from preparation to performance.
If you’re thinking that flying synchronized drones in the closed air space of a crowded theater could quickly devolve into disaster, you’re not the only one. In the video, Cale perceives that risk as part of the show’s draw. Maybe the same morbid curiosity that brings people out to a NASCAR race in hopes of witnessing a crash might compel people to visit a performance where they run the risk of getting smacked in the head by tiny propellers?
Overall, the creators of Loop>>60Hz have an optimistic view of a drone-saturated future, where drones help in our daily interactions, both mundane and extraordinary, from performing building maintenance to proving aid in emergencies. Costume designer Samantha Lee describes their intention is to “move away from the typical drone costume being really military-associated. Sort of thinking about them as being like the next mobile phone. It’s more about being playful and fun.” Young echoes those sentiments when discussing the loud humming (or should I say “droning”?) of the drones, with which the musicians have to compete: “What you have is a sound that is typically associated with terror actually become repurposed in a theater space like this, and becomes quite moving, becomes quite emotive, becomes a cultural act instead of a military act.”
This is not the first experiment to merge the realms of music and drone technology. You may recall two year ago when students at the University of Pennsylvania programmed autonomous quadcopters to perform the James Bond theme song, or earlier this year, when KMel Robotics produced an impressive live show of classical tunes (both videos shared below). What is the next step in the evolution of drone music? Possibly a touring show, a la Hatsune Miku?