Blueblut: Garden Of Robotic Unkraut

Jamming with improvising robots, Austrian experimentalists featuring Led Bib boss Mark Holub suggest a cross between punk and Stockhausen


Blueblut have added new musicians for their latest record – one human and six robots. Alongside Chris Janka’s guitar, Pamelia Stickney’s theremin and Mark Holub’s drumkit, the trio welcomes an orchestra of six robotic instruments built by Janka using motors, magnets and pneumatic components. Nicola Hein also contributes his guitar, as well as customised software that has taught the machines to improvise. But can these robo-cats really swing?

The album is split into two parts. First, six tracks use the robots like a backing band that lays down a programmed foundation for their human bandmates to play over. Then five tracks explore Hein’s improvisation software, which runs audio signals through a machine-learning process in real time and triggers responses from the robots. That enables the humans and robots to interact almost exactly like any other jazz musicians.

Pompeji kicks off the first half. One robot hums. Another makes a pulsing noise. Something is plinking and clinking. Janka’s crunchy guitar tone adds a rockish riff. The robotic background gives Holub space to spread out, and he throws his drumkit into the limelight often. Then a machine rounds things off by blowing compressed air into glass bottles.

The improvisation experiment begins with Garden 8. They make a tentative start, dipping toes in uncharted waters before wading deeper. Pockets of energy rise, some quickly and some slowly. Unaware of jazz etiquette for when to step back and push forward, the robots are strikingly bold in their playing.

Blueblut have a groovy and wide-open sound, with a pioneering approach to performance. Garden Of Robotic Unkraut is a remarkable technical achievement – with plenty of enjoyable musical moments too. This is an exciting and refreshing group of jazz improvisers. And the humans aren’t bad either.

Pompeji; Kamel; Geisterscheiße; PJ; Nummer 5; Petrov; Garden 8; Garden 7; Garden 1; Garden 6; Garden 5 (79.22)
Nicola Hein (g, AI-programmer); Chris Janka (g, robot creator); Pamelia Stickney (theremin); Mark Holub (d); The Totally Mechanized MIDI Orchestra. Vienna, 2022.
Janka Industries JI001CD