Credit: Angelo Guttadauro

Review: Leonardo Barbadoro’s revolutionary robot orchestra album, Musica Automata

After teasing the world with two scintillating singles, Leonardo Barbadoro finally unleashed his full-length album, Musica Automata, via Helical records on November 3rd 2023. The Italian musician, composer, engineer and producer undertook the ambitious task of creating an album of orchestral music performed entirely by robots – the largest of its kind in the world. After a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2018, the project began its production, and started to gain serious mainstream attention from esteemed publications such as Red Bull, Vice, RaiNews, and CNN Indonesia. The album has also been receiving widespread media coverage from the international press such as musictech. The spotlighting culminated in a live performance of the installation at Tomorrowland festival in Belgium in 2019. Under his old moniker Koolmorf Widesen, Barbadoro has performed alongside the likes of Apparat, Venetian Snares, DJ Spooky and 808 State. Musica Automata is finally here – and it is a triumph.

Throughout Musica Automata, Barbadoro makes use of a vast array of  orchestral instruments – both conventional and unconventional. The first pre-released single, ‘Bomi’, is short and sharp, delivering an assortment of pipe organs, piano and bells playing a motif as other melodic instruments playfully weave in and out of the fray, while castanets and tambourines hold down a minimal rhythm. The second single, ‘Hybr Spiro’, is more percussion-focussed than its predecessor, weaving a tapestry of playful polyrhythms as a simple and constant microtonal melody shifts between instruments. The focus track, Vibi’, was composed for a single instrument, a digitally controlled vibraphone with an experimental delay effect created while live instead of in post-production. The track has a very simple melody – it is one of the very few within the album to be composed of a tonal key and has a standard structure. Controlled remotely by Leonardo, many of the robots’ technical parameters are also programmed, but with meticulously-engineered nuances that create the sense of a ‘human’ performance. The sheer amount of musical and technological elements at play in Musica Automatica make it a sonic odyssey that pushes the parameters of what we understand about the interplay of music, sound and technology.

Musica Automata represents a turning point in my compositional and instrumental research,” Barbadoro divulged. “It is music that brings together two dimensions often perceived as incompatible, even antithetical: the boundless expressive possibilities of electronics implemented by an acoustic instrumental body in a sensory reality, beating, vibrating, and blowing”.

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