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Robotics Technology

ASIMO to Conduct Symphony Orchestra 86

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the hopefully-no-stairs-to-the-conductors-podium dept.
DeviceGuru writes to mention that Honda's ASIMO robot will apparently be leading the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in a performance of "Impossible Dream" from the conductors podium. Along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the mechanical marvel will hopefully have a better performance than some of the earlier public appearances. "Honda says it is giving the Detroit Symphony Orchestra a gift of more than $1 million to create The Power of Dreams Music Education Fund. The fund is intended to help the Detroit Public Schools, which has suffered from severe cost constraints that have hurt the district's ability to provide music education, offer students the opportunity to learn to play instruments, read music, and participate in bands or orchestras."
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ASIMO to Conduct Symphony Orchestra

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  • Patronage (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gihan_ripper (785510) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @06:41AM (#23283394) Homepage
    It's a shame that the Detroit public school system is in such a dire state that it has to stoop to entertaining Honda'a whims in order to gain funding. This harks back to the old days of wealthy patrons supporting the arts. Though in this case, it's a large Japanese corporation rather than individual aristocrats.
    • Re:Patronage (Score:5, Insightful)

      by m.ducharme (1082683) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @07:20AM (#23283514)
      What old days? The patronage of wealthy people has never stopped funding the arts, and continues on to this day. Most major arts centres are funded in large part by their endowment funds, and those organizations pay money to people who ensure that those endowment funds continue to receive large donations.
      • Re:Patronage (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gihan_ripper (785510) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @07:30AM (#23283556) Homepage
        Sorry, I should clarify that I'm writing from a European perspective. In Europe (certainly in the UK), the arts are primarily funded by the government, or by other public bodies. Read the BBC article [bbc.co.uk]. In this respect, the US is much more antiquated. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by this ASIMO story, but I am surprised none the less.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by strabes (1075839)
          You're making the assumption that the arts are better funded by government. Yes, I realize the Founders of the U.S. made provision for the "useful" Arts in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, but that is what is known as the "Copyright Clause" and says nothing of funding. I see no reason for government to become involved in funding the arts, especially when there is more than enough private capital readily available.
          • I'm not actually gung-ho about government funding either. I agree with you that a massive bureaucracies are very poor at arts funding and I can point at many instances when people I know have suffered because of this kind of art-by-committee. However, my original post was meant to (whether or not it succeeded) point up the absurdities that occur when corporations rather than individuals get involved with arts funding. Corporate sponsors generally just want to be seen to be funding the arts, so they'll ei
            • by strabes (1075839)
              I agree. If corporations want to give their name a positive connotation, they should get involved in foreign aid and poverty elimination, C.K. Prahalad style. This will help them and the poor.
              • Microsoft do plenty of that but I don't think it's given their brand a positive connotation :P They provide really (or ignore the illegal vesion) of Windows to poor countries). If you are only doing it for the publicity or future profits and not from generousity then it's still not really going to help your image. I think what Honda are doing is quite cool though, but I already liked them (just - they are a bit arrogant sometimes in areas such as motorsport).
                • by strabes (1075839)
                  Good point. I guess I was assuming that the corporation isn't evil to begin with, which isn't always the case.
        • Re:Patronage (Score:4, Insightful)

          by owlnation (858981) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @08:37AM (#23283792)

          In Europe (certainly in the UK), the arts are primarily funded by the government, or by other public bodies. Read the BBC article. In this respect, the US is much more antiquated. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by this ASIMO story, but I am surprised none the less.
          This is true, but this is not a good system -- at least in the UK. The problem with the Arts Council and Lottery funding is that is is bureaucratic, clique-ish, nepotistic, and absolutely thoroughly corrupt.They are unaccountable and wholly non-transparent.

          As someone who work regularly with new filmmakers in the UK, let me assure you that none of these funding bodies will help anyone they don't know, or have a relationship with in some way. It's jobs for the boys -- just like any local government or NGO organization.

          A mixture of Government funded things (with full transparency and accountability) and private finance is the only way to ensure new artists and new work is created.

          For all that Europeans like to boast and be elitist about their arts systems, other than in the former communist countries, there's very little art created compared to the market driven US systems. Take TV for example -- the US TV shows hire the best people in the world, they are innovative and challenging despite the limits of the ratings system. There's no shows from any other country anywhere that offer that degree of technical talent, and technical innovation.
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            There's no shows from any other country anywhere that offer that degree of technical talent, and technical innovation.

            On the other hand, most American television is entirely devoid of actual content - it's slickly processed shit. I'd rather have something of substance without the pretty wrapper.

            It seems that many of the best documentaries and such (not to include the recent David Attenborough special on Polar Bears that doesn't even use the phrase "global warming" which is currently kicking some polar bear ass) as well as period dramas (the English love their periods) come out of England to this day. So it's not all bad

          • by timeOday (582209)

            As someone who work regularly with new filmmakers in the UK, let me assure you that none of these funding bodies will help anyone they don't know, or have a relationship with in some way. It's jobs for the boys -- just like any local government or NGO organization.

            I really, really don't see how you think private patronage is the solution to this? The American system: you let rich people write all the laws so they end up with the vast bulk of the wealth, then they fund whoever they feel like. Even if the

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Sorry, I should clarify that I'm writing from a European perspective. In Europe (certainly in the UK), the arts are primarily funded by the government, or by other public bodies.

          Before that, it was funded by rich individuals.

          In this respect, the US is much more antiquated.

          I don't know that supporting artists is something best done by government. I think the most valid thing that Government can do in most situations is get out of the way.

        • I don't know if "antiquated" is the right word. I'm in Canada, and here, the arts are inadequately funded by the government, and larger centres also have endowment funds with active recruiters. Is it more or less "antiquated" if the wealthier members of your society stop taking an interest in the arts? One nice thing about the endowment model vs the government funding model is that there is more stability and reliability in the level of funding. My wife worked as the general manager of a small live theat
        • I wish they would fund the arts here in the US. because they don't. I'm in band and we have to make our own funds.Now they have the nerve to try to get rid of the arts and it makes me really mad. They have never burdened themselves with the costs and now they want to get rid of it. It is dumb. I wish I could hear their performance. It should be really interesting.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by portnux (630256)
      What's a shame is that Honda won't offer me a million bucks to let that goofy thing mow my lawn.
    • by maxume (22995)
      The public school system isn't stooping to anything. The DSO is stooping and using the resulting gift to help the schools. Everybody involved is clearly an asshole.
    • by jav1231 (539129)
      No the shame is that much of that money will go to administrative uses or to the board and never make it to the teachers, let alone the student needs. Educational spending in this country is through the roof and the ROI is in the shitter. But hey, keep raising my taxes "for the children."

  • by Harold Halloway (1047486) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @06:43AM (#23283404)
    Having known a few professional orchestral musicians in my time, I can tell you that they will be absolutely fucking delighted at having to play with a robot.
    • by Plutonite (999141)
      Yeah, but it makes for a more interesting story to tell the wife.. " director today was a robot!" is probably better than "we played the Chopin piece then got drunk as penguins at the hotel bar".
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Many conductors I've worked with are egotistical, loud, and prone to temper-tantrums. At least these musicians won't have to put up with having obscenities hurled at them because they looked at the conductor the wrong way!
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      All two [former] professional orchestral musicians I know are fucking dingbats. I do know two professional classical musicians who are not fucking dingbats, but one is a Chamber Music Cellist and the other is his wife who is a Pianist and has more recently become an Opera conductor. (She is Japanese, but not a robot.) Neither is "in the orchestra" in literal or figurative sense.

      Both of the wingnuts I referred to earlier play strings (viola, violin) and the flute. Is it common that these people are brain-da

      • by skeeto (1138903)

        She is Japanese, but not a robot.

        I am glad we got that cleared up, though I am a bit dissapointed now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PMuse (320639)
      The human musicians don't need to follow the robot's direction for anything more than basic time keeping. It's not as if the robot were running the rehearsals or deciding musical interpretation. Call me when the robot learns to follow a human conductor.

      At least Honda paid a reasonably good sum for this blatant product placement.
      • by erlando (88533) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @11:09AM (#23284640) Homepage

        It sounds like you've never sat in an orchestra. The conductor is more than basic timekeeping at all times. If this was not the case, why aren't all orchestras just using a metronome at their concerts?

        My prediction is that this performance will be under par for the orchestra. It will sound mechanical.

        • by PMuse (320639)
          I've seen a fair number of celebrity guest conductors of orchestras in my day. At least this one will be programmed with the right numbers of measures and reasonable tempos (in effect, a moderately advanced metronome that is programmed with the number of measures and the tempo changes).

          Yes, the performance will sound mechanical and uninspired to those with an ear for such things. A talented human conductor would supply more, but the robot can manage to get from start to finish because the musicians will c
        • >It sounds like you've never sat in an orchestra. The conductor is more than basic timekeeping at all times.
          >If this was not the case, why aren't all orchestras just using a metronome at their concerts?
          >My prediction is that this performance will be under par for the orchestra. It will sound mechanical.

          I played in a band through all of my school years until college.

          While the director was essential during practice, during performance, all they /were/ was a metronome.

          When I sang with a choral group,
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Clomer (644284)
      I am an orchestral musician myself (not at the professional level, but I do play the cello semi-regularly with a local community orchestra). I can tell you that by the time the group is ready for performance, the conductor's job is 99% complete. The main thing a human conductor does is run the rehearsals. He brings the Orchestra together so that they are ready to play together, with a unified vision of the music, on performance day. If he did his job right, then depending on the music he might not even
  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday May 03, 2008 @06:44AM (#23283406) Homepage

    When it comes to contemporary repertoire, the more "robotic" the conductor, the better the performance. This is because usually composers try to write exactly how their music should sound, extending the notation if necessary, instead of leaving it up to the judgement of the conductor, who might come up with something completely different. In Per Norgard's Symphony No. 3 [amazon.com] , for instance, the whole effect of the music is based on as close an adherence to the golden section as is humanly possible by the performers, and a conductor who plays what he sees without adding in any extraneous phrasing is desirable. In Elliott Carter's mature music, balancing all the tempos properly is extremely difficult for a human conductor.

    I don't foresee ASIMO replacing human conductors permanently, but I suspect that any performance he conducted of modern works would sound better than those by conductors trained like Bernstein or Karajan, who tried to make the music fit their own universal style instead of following the wishes of the composer.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dreamchaser (49529)
      Let's replace all the musicians as well then with robots who play each note perfectly just as the composer envisioned. No?

      This is a bad thing for music, not a good thing, and a cheap publicity stunt.
      • by CRCulver (715279)

        Let's replace all the musicians as well then with robots who play each note perfectly just as the composer envisioned. No?

        Most of today's leading composers had composed electronic works, and the courses at IRCAM are extremely popular for musicians from all over the world. While writing for live human ensembles remains popular for several reasons (not least that few halls are set up for electronics), for several decades composers have been delighted by the greater control they have in how a piece ends up

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dreamchaser (49529)
          I've been a musician for close to 30 years and I understand that, but the symphony is NOT the place for non human 'musicians'. There is a place for electronic music, and the symphony hall is NOT it.

          Now get off my lawn.
      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday May 03, 2008 @09:15AM (#23284012) Homepage Journal

        This is a bad thing for music, not a good thing, and a cheap publicity stunt.

        Well, it doesn't sound like it's ALL that cheap. But seriously, why is it a bad thing for music? I mean, the same thing was said about the record player, the electric guitar, and the synthesizer (and still is today, but only by luddites. Get off my lawn, and turn down that music!)

    • I don't foresee ASIMO replacing human conductors permanently, but I suspect that any performance he conducted of modern works would sound better than those by conductors trained like Bernstein or Karajan, who tried to make the music fit their own universal style instead of following the wishes of the composer.

      Assuming, of course, the composer hasn't been dead for a few hundred years, isn't well known or understood, or the instruments used at the time are still available in the same form.

      That said, I agree t
      • by vertinox (846076)
        A machine may be able to conduct, or play a piano, but a cello or guitar, for example, would be beyond a machine's abilities. At least that's what I hope is and remains the case.

        *coughs* [slashdot.org]

        Actually, its not hard for any machine to play any type of music because music notation itself is a programming language, but I think the thing that humans have over machines is analog imperfection which is the hardest part for the machine to replicate which every performance a human gives is (like you said) unique.

        The other
        • by erlando (88533)

          A machine may be able to conduct, or play a piano, but a cello or guitar, for example, would be beyond a machine's abilities. At least that's what I hope is and remains the case.
          *coughs* [slashdot.org]

          You have GOT to be kidding me. That sounds like a 6 year old who just got finished with the first few lessons. The sound of every note is totally flat. It lacks any kind of touch. Mechanical and insulting to music.

        • but I think the thing that humans have over machines is analog imperfection

          I've got a few machines sitting at home here who would like to disagree with you.
    • by BAM0027 (82813)
      I acknowledge your point, especially your last paragraph. In my opinion, I see this as marketing campaign funding research with a touch of public entertainment thrown in.

      Your point references several pieces that may be specific or even a trend with composition, but, and I could be wrong, The Impossible Dream which will be performed is probably _not_ one of those that was written for exacting performance.

      For me, classical performance is a peculiar exercise that can produce amazing examples of grace whereupon
    • by maxume (22995)
      What does "sound better" end up meaning though?

      Things like 'adherence to the golden section' sound an awful lot like the composer is substituting a demonstration of how clever he is for the stuff that Beethoven and Mozart called music.
      • Using the golden section is not particularly clever; the cleverness lies in the golden section itself and its apparent ability to enhance artistic beauty. Since it has been shown to do so in terms of visual arts, I think it's a valid and interesting endeavour to see whether it will have the same effect on music.

        Medieval music is also a far cry from what Beethoven or Mozart would call music. A lot of it is far more like ultra-modern music such as minimalism than it is like what we think of as "classical" m

        • by gardyloo (512791)

          Using the golden section is not particularly clever; the cleverness lies in the golden section itself and its apparent ability to enhance artistic beauty. Since it has been shown to do so in terms of visual arts [...]

          Meh. Yes, rectangular thingies appearing with something close to the golden ratio are often visually "balanced". And it does appear quite often (though one usually has to look closely for it) in nature. However, the spate of finding the golden ratio in every bit of classical architecture and sketch by Da Vinci is annoying when you realize that the findings are pretty much artistic numerology: The ratios are ALWAYS approximate (as they must be), and usually VERY approximate, along the lines of "Gosh, thi

          • I wasn't talking about art deliberately created with the ratio in mind, though, just that things that look good (it is claimed) often happen to have the golden ratio in them inherently. But you're right about it being pretty tenuous. Still, as something that's touted as being a thing of beauty, I maintain that trying to apply it to music is a worthwhile endeavour - regardless of whether the end result proves or disproves a theory.

    • by zx75 (304335) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @09:37AM (#23284112) Homepage
      The composer gives you structure, the maestro gives it style. Regardless of the amount of notation, simply playing what is on the page without a sense of musicianship is terrible. Now at the professional level I am confident that the players know how to balance themselves and what to listen for... but it is impossible to hear exactly what you sound like down in the pit or on the stage. That is what the conductor is for, to listen to the sound and tell you what corrections to make while you play... something a robot is incapable of doing.

      And then you have composers/conductors like John Philip Sousa, and the widely known Sousa-marches. Very technical pieces of work, fast, and they can be hard to play. In addition to that, the score that is written on the page is wrong. I mean, literally Sousa wrote down a lot of notes that you are not supposed to play! Sousa himself knew which parts to play and which to ignore, but others didn't... which is why a Sousa march was never as good unless Sousa himself was conducting it. Only a skilled and attentive conductor would be able to listen to how he actually conducts it and reverse engineer the mistakes that he intentionally made in the score.

      Welcome to the world of modern music. A robot can keep time... but so can a metronome. Give me someone who can hear and give me the cues I need to play with the rest of the orchestra while I am busy being deafened by the trumpets.

      - From an amateur but active Flautist
    • I, too, think this is a good thing.

      Because material that can better be directed and performed by robots, should be performed by robots.

      When it comes to contemporary repertoire, the more "robotic" the conductor, the better the performance. This is because usually composers try to write exactly how their music should sound, extending the notation if necessary, instead of leaving it up to the judgement of the conductor, who might come up with something completely different.

      I can imagine the micromanagement - "trumpets with Schilke 14A4A mouthpiece" and "cellos with Appaloosa-hair bows, downstrokes to be executed 3 inches from the bridge and upstrokes 2 and 2/3 inches to rehearsal letter seven, then switch to Cleveland Bay bows and the metric system."

      Husa with a 'tude!

      If this is how they compose, they should give up on people entirely and star

    • When it comes to contemporary repertoire, the more "robotic" the conductor, the better the performance.

      What a terrible generalization. Have you ever seen Boulez conduct? Mahler was extremely specific about what he desired in his music; should a conductor be likewise robotic when conducting his symphonies?

      A conductor must have the same skills regardless of the era of the music being performed: he must have an incredible full understanding of the score, the ability to find and keep proper tempi through changes in tempo and meter, and the ability to accurately communicate the relevant bits of his understanding

  • For a $1M Grant... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FurtiveGlancer (1274746) <AdHocTechGuy@aol.QUOTEcom minus punct> on Saturday May 03, 2008 @07:01AM (#23283456) Journal
    I'd be willing to listen to robots play a kazoo arrangement of "Feelings" five times. Without earplugs!
  • ... a lot of money for a fancy metronome?
    • by mrbluze (1034940)

      ... a lot of money for a fancy metronome?
      Isn't it so true - Man doesn't need the devil to make him look a fool. He is perfectly capable of doing it himself.
  • So what? You could get any robot with articulated "arms" with servomotors to conduct an orchestra.
    • by potat0man (724766)
      Yeah but could it turn around, bow at the end, and then walk off stage?




      Didn't think so.
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @11:25AM (#23284746) Journal
        Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged tech demo.

        I'd be a lot more enthusiastic about the Asimo if you could actually buy one and see it execute _your_ program, or take your direction. As it is, it's essentially a black box. With all that implies. For all we know, somewhere behind the stage some real guy with a wiimote could do the conducting, and the robot could be just a remotely controlled box.

        We've never seen it do anything except in controlled, pre-prepared settings.

        E.g., ok, it can walk around corners and up stairs. Can it still do it if we move the corners or the stairs? What about if I bring my own stairs? E.g., so one can move a cart and the other can take a cup from the cart. Does it still work if I come as a human and move the cart 3ft to the side from where the first robot left it? What if I move the tables around? Turning around, bowing and walking off the stage isn't much different. Can it still do it, if you rearrange that setup at all?

        There are so many ways one could cheat those demos, it's not even funny. E.g., for all we know, it could just be programmed exactly where to put each foot, in X, Y, Z coordinates, and fly off the handle if the stairs don't match those. Or it could have an RFID chip in each place where it must place the foot, and essentially just home in on those with each foot. Etc.

        Essentially we don't really _know_ what it does, except for being a high-tech publicity stunt for Honda. It could be the most advanced robot in the world, or it could be the hoax of the century, or something in between. We don't know.

        So basically I'll wait until I see one perform in an uncontrolled environment, before getting all "OMG! Asimo!" fanboy. Until then, heck, the Roomba is more exciting. At least you can see for yourself what it does when you stand in its way.

        So until I see it do stuff outside
        • by Zackbass (457384)
          Actually we do know. Before you fly off the handle with ignorant speculation you should at least try to find a few facts. As part of my robotics research I've had the opportunity to see an Asimo in completely impromptu situations. Disregarding this, most of the 'rigged' situations you describe such as open loop trajectories are STILL extremely difficult to do well for an underactuated machine like Asimo. You could have at least tried searching Google Scholar first.
  • "Play, my little humans, play! Muah ha ha haaa!"
  • They should have a contest to come up with a name for the ASIMO conductor...

    My vote? MetroGnome [wikipedia.org]? !!!

  • Consider how orchestral musicians are hired: the best possible soloist (often the most bombastic) is auditioned, but expected to fit in and know their place once hired.

    The role of the conductor is as much political--the tamer of egos--as it is musical. How soon ASIMO will take over these duties I cannot say.

    Personally, the idea of an orchestra, with so many people trying to do the same thing at the same time, might as well be replaced with robots. A small ensemble where the musicians have room to improvise and explore their personal creativity is much more interesting to me.
    • by CRCulver (715279)

      A small ensemble where the musicians have room to improvise and explore their personal creativity is much more interesting to me.

      Who cares about musician's "personal creativity"? Your average performer might be good at manipulating his instrument to produce sounds, but he probably isn't too good at thinking up what sounds to produce to begin with. Composition requires years of training, and only a small amount of musicians have succeeded in doing both composition and performance. And beyond the years of

      • And yet a lot of our canonical composers wrote their music in the expectation that the performers would introduce some improvisation. Added parts would be improvised in medieval music, for example, as would harmonies or other lines in the Renaissance, and music of the Baroque period regularly contains movements which are simply a series of chord progressions based upon which the performer is meant to make up his own music. Concertos will often contain cadenzas, passages in which a soloist plays without acco
    • That's not really how orchestral musicians are hired. But you're right, I guess this whole "orchestra" thing will never work out, what with the hopelessness of us all "trying to do the same thing at the same time".
  • I for one welcome our symphony conducting robot overlords!
  • ...inherent in the very idea that a Japanese robot from a Japanese car company will be leading an orchestra in the center of what used to be America's car manufacturing empire?

  • DPS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by snkline (542610) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @08:42AM (#23283814)
    I wouldn't donate money to Detroit Public Schools unless it was with the stipulation that the entire administration be replaced. DPS's financial problems are caused by horrible mismanagement of funds, not because there wasn't enough money to begin with. I wouldn't be suprised if none of that money ends up going to music education....
  • by Luscious868 (679143) on Saturday May 03, 2008 @10:05AM (#23284296)

    Perhaps if Detroit wasn't run by a corrupt mayor [freep.com] it's public schools system would be in better shape. Why do African Americans refuse to hold their elected officials accountable when they have clearly committed serious crimes? Marion Barry, William Jefferson, Kwame Kilpatrick and the list goes on. It's a real problem in Detroit going back to the Coleman Young days. Detroit voters would rather stick it to the suburbs by rallying around whichever black candidate paints the other black candidate as being white and in the end the only thing they end up sticking it to is themselves.

    Don't believe me? Check out Kwame's State of the City [wxyz.com] speech and then try and tell me that he isn't trying to rally ignorant African American voters to his side by placing the race card. Read the text messages between himself and the women he was cheating with his wife on. The only person calling Kwame a "nigga" was his mistress.

  • So what? A remote-control conductor. The minimum technology to do that has been around since at least the early 1800s, and probably long before then. Now, if they could PROGRAM it to conduct the orchestra, all on its own, start to finish, then I would be impressed.
  • by anza (900224)
    That's one expensive metronome.
  • I would love to be there so I could scream "stand on one foot! Do the Hokee Pokee and turn yourself about!" Detroit kids will learn that conducting is nothing more than waving your arms to a programmed pattern.

    Conducting is about 1% physical the rest is musicianship. Gestures are used because they are silent. And during the performance, what happens next is based mostly on what has happened up until that moment.

    ASIMO knows only gestures. It knows nothing of the performance or whether the musicians are

  • Conduction is done during rehearsals, there the different sections of the orchestra fine tune how the piece of music will be interpreted and later on all the sections of the orchestra are "stitched" together in order to deliver a performance of the work in question.

    To direct an orchestra you require of many intellectual attributes that currently are not the grasp of any robot, no matter how advanced.

    In any orchestra the director can safely take a sit during the performance and the music would flow flawlessl

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