A blend of audio-visual elements and film accompanied by a textured and percussive ensemble fashions the distinctive sound of Big Robot. Formed in 2009, the group has performed in unique venues around Indianapolis, attempting to turn each show into a memorable work of art. All three members, Michael Drews, Scott Deal and Jordan Munson, are music technology professors at IUPUI.
At the beginning, the group struggled to craft their sound, stylistic communication being the trickiest obstacle to overcome.
“We knew we wanted to work together, but we didn’t know what it would mean exactly – in some cases we basically invented instruments,” explained Michael Drews, one member of the multimedia performance trio.
A fascination with expressive computer and music technology performance served as the common thread between the group’s three members. Yet, their diverse backgrounds presented a barrier in engineering the eclectic style they perform today.
“We had the technology and laptops, but we had to invent how that would work and the music that would go with it,” Drews said.
What put the group on the same page was a connection through each member’s classically trained background and history in rock music.
“We didn’t want to be a rock band, but we also felt that trying to be a classical ensemble was going to be too constraining,” Deal explained, “We decided to go on that journey together, asking what it meant.”
The creation and customization of software instruments helps devise the group’s varied range of sounds. These instruments combined with multimedia and telematic performance encompass the underlying themes of technology, sci-fi, nature and film.
The music is only one characteristic of Big Robot’s eccentric style. The group’s performances are often held in unconventional venues, most recently in the Indianapolis Catacombs for their show “Death of a Mechanical Man,” a film written and directed by the band themselves.
Drews explained that the choice of venues has forced them to become more creative, calling them “special event” performances.
“Our performances are unique in that way, it’s not just like seeing a regular band, it’s something different,” Drews explained, “There’s an experience to be had that you can’t get by just listening to a recording or seeing a straightforward band.”
With the evolution of Big Robot, the Department of Music and Arts Technology at IUPUI has evolved as well. The band credits themselves in the development of the department’s mission.
“Before we started doing a lot of this work we weren’t the Department of Music and Arts Technology,” Drews said. “This department has always been technology related, but it wasn’t so connected to experimental research in performance and new ways of writing and creating. Now the mission of this department mirrors some of these goals we’ve had. I think that’s natural just because we’ve been around here awhile.”
Now, the group is working on creating a film of their “Death of a Mechanical Man” performance, which is being shot in the abandoned Central State Hospital in Indianapolis.
“We’d like to install it as much as we can in different art institutions around the country,” said Munson.
The group hopes that this installation will inspire more material and lead to another album.
For Big Robot, the past eight years have been spent working on one project after another. The band has released an album and has performed their shows in cities around the world.
“We have not stopped since the beginning,” says Drews, “It’s hard to point to a favorite project. It never feels finished, there’s never been an end of a project.”
“It’s just doing it. We have the life where we get to work together every day,” Deal added, “It’s really great.”