This Machine Kills Fascists

This Machine Kills Fascists is an animatronic guitar-playing robot that plays American folk songs. This project was born from my practice-based creative research, in collaboration with Dustyn Roberts and Troy Richards at the University of Delaware.

Today’s social media is effectively anti-social. It guises people behind their devices, creating an experience void of actual, physical, sensory contact with others in their social group. These internet-based communities further a personal disconnection with the rich, corporeal reality of being.

We designed T.M.K.F. to be a traveling troubadour that creates community in the traditional sense (albeit for a fleeting moment) through the sharing of song. Just as folk singers did in the past, our robot does today. Audiences may wonder about the electro-mechanics, or laugh at it’s obvious imperfections, but simply through the act of attendance they are challenged to be in the moment, together.

The name of this piece is taken from a label on Woody Guthrie’s guitar.

The video above demonstrates the operation of the robot, playing “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. The robot “plays” a standard Epiphone DR-100 Acoustic Guitar by way of an encoded DC motor and timing belt/pulleys mechanism that strums the strings up and down as a block of 24 solenoids press the appropriate strings/frets to produce chords. The head/speaker is taken from the Acoustic amplifier at its feet, into which a microphone is connected.

When we perform the piece, we distribute the lyrics on sheets with instructions and invite everyone in attendance to sing along. As a stand-alone exhibition, the audience is prompted to press the button on the floor to actuate the performance.

Performance at OCAD University in April 2017. Troy and Dustyn are on the left.

 

T.M.K.F. has been exhibited as part of  the Visiting Artist Lecture Series at the gallery at Illinois State University, Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science, the Holiday Hackshop at Eyebeam in NYC and at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada.

Detail of the custom PCB and wiring.

 

Funding for this project came from a General University Research Grant to Troy Richards and was made possible with support from the following students: Jennifer Koffenberger, Brett Smith, Brendan Picciotti, Matt Stevens, Chris Faircloth, Brian Bell, Russel Davis, and Jason Stevens. The Design Studio within the Mechanical Engineering department at UD also played a major role in enabling the development of the project.

 

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