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Music for RAKU

David Nunez
David Nunez
2 min read

Over the weekend, I met with two different folks about writing / compiling the musical score for RAKU, my first robot show.”RAKU”, by the way, is just the working title for the show for now. (and the comma DOES belong on the outside of the quotation marks… grrr..)

Mike discovered my Robot Show Playlist on my iPod. I already have dozens of songs which I think would be perfect in the shows, but there is no way I could get/afford the rights to them, so I need some original music. I’m no musician, so I have a need for collaborators who are willing to work for free / very cheap.

I found it immensely difficult to describe what I wanted for the show to the music guys. It was important to me not to mention the songs I play for myself over and over when I’m thinking about the show.

For it to be a collaboration, my music partner needs to come up with some things which are unique and which I hadn’t thought about before.

I showed some sketches, illustrations, and photos of works-in-progress (i.e. things I’m building in my garage) to each of them. I used words like “ethnic fusion”, “tribal”, “taiko”, and “earthy”. There has to be an element of electronica in there, but not thump-thump-thump-thump trance… A style could be called “tribal-ambient-drum-n-base.” I described what I thought RAKU’s opening sounds would be: throat-singing and tubular bells.

There are some technical requirements that music for RAKU must meet. Due to the nature of what’s going on in the show, everything has to be timed perfectly with little (or built-in) room for human error. Most of the show will involve a robot/human collaboration (i.e. me and a machine working together to present something visually). The robot will be perfect every single time. I won’t.

We’ll need to meet in the middle, and when the soundtrack is going, it will need to be on autopilot to match what’s going on onstage.

That’s not entirely accurate… I’m excited about some algorithmic, on-the-fly music composition software I’m throwing together. A certain portion of the music for RAKU will be generated based on input from the audience (both with and without their knowing about it). I’m taking in and reading a lot of material on music theory. Most people are aware that music and math are very closely related. I’m going to exploit that a little. Lots of people have done this sort of work before, so no 100% pioneering here… it’s just cool.

Nevertheless, the parts of the score that are unique to each show will have to fit in with the overall musical feel. It will also need to meet some the same strict timing requirements as the pre-composed music.

I’ve been researching venues, also. There are some relatively cheap spots I can rent around town. I’m not sure I know what I’m going to end up spending on building this show, but if I can break even or minimize my losses with ticket sales… well, that’ll be icing on the cake.


David Nunez Twitter

Dir of Technology at the MIT Museum • Writing about emerging tech's impact on your life • Speculative insights on the intersection of humanity and technology 🤖


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