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Robotic band plays Mill

BY RYAN COLE | MAY 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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JBOT is the only human member of Captured! By Robots. The others — machines he built himself.

JBOT said he likes it this way — in his past bands, he’s had to deal with drug addicts, band members dropping out because of pregnant girlfriends, and money problems with other musicians.

“It’s not so much an idea as a necessity,” he said. “The question should be why didn’t I think of it sooner — all that bullshit adds up to be ridiculous.”

Captured! By Robots will perform today at 9 p.m. at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St. Admission is $10.

The band began in 1997 with some very rudimentary robots. It took JBOT, who had little experience with electronics, about a year to built his mechanical musicians and prepare them for tour.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. “I’d never built a robot before. In the beginning it really kind of sucked — it was a huge learning curve.”

The technology and JBOT’s facility with electronics have improved significantly over the years. The musician said his robots are now capable of performing things beyond a human’s physical capability.

“On this tour, I’ve discovered a lot of programming tricks,” he said. “It’s ridiculous how awesome they can play.”

Sam Locke-Ward, the booking agent at the Mill, first encountered Captured! By Robots while working at Gabe’s, and he was captivated by the performance.

“It’s absolutely mind-blowing,” he said. “It’s unbelievable to see the genius that goes into the building of the robots and the execution of the songs.”

As a longtime fan of the band, Locke-Ward has also seen the progress in the robots’ ability to perform music.

“It’s not like Chuck E. Cheese, where it’s fake robots with songs playing,” Locke-Ward said. “The robots are actually playing the instruments.”

University of Iowa student Casey Rafn said the robots’ ability to play the instruments was an appealing aspect to the live performance.

“I think it’s interesting concept,” the senior said. “It’d be interesting to see robots physically create the sound.”

Working with machines does have its downfall, though. JBOT has had issues with fans spilling beer on the robots, and he recently had to take AUTOMATOM, a drumming robot, out of commission because of difficulties synching it up with the other players. Now DRMBOT 0110 handles the primary percussive duties.

On this tour, the band — which also includes GTRBOT666, the Ape Which Hath No Name, Son of the Ape Which Hath No Name, and the Headless Hornsmen trio — will play mostly classic rock, mixing in originals and covers.

“I hope people are expecting some awesome, heavy rock, cause that’s what we’re doing,” JBOT said.
And though robot maintenance and transportation can be difficult while touring, he said he finds it worthwhile.

“It’s a huge amount of work, which sucks,” he said. “But anything that’s good should be a lot of work.”


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