Max-controlled robotic carillon


The Ealing Feeder is a Max controlled 28-note polyphonic, robotic carillon (automatic bell-playing rig). I originally built it as a sound installation but now take it out several times a times a month as a gigging instrument – hence the odd piece of electrical tape that some of you may spot in this video. It takes its name from a control panel in Battersea Power Station which directed power to the Ealing district of London.

I build robotic instruments for use on stage as I’m a theremin player and am attracted to backing instruments that have a striking physical presence. I think this automaton is more theatrical than anything I could do with, say, a loop pedal.

In this video, the Ealing Feeder is playing an algorithmic riff I constructed in Max.  I tend to write these algorithmic riffs on the hoof, playing with the tonalities to fit the mood of the piece. Halfway though the piece, the Ealing Feeder performs a double, where it adds an extra note on the half beat, a certain interval above the first note (this interval varies every few seconds).

I’m most into this Max-controlled carillon when it performs music that’s outside the envelope of human performance – for instance very fast ostinati or passages that put 7 beats against 13. This plays to the strength of the robotic instrument. It giving us a form of music we couldn’t have from human hands alone.

The Ealing Feeder uses a servo board which communicates with Max via serial or midi out. My entire live set is performed from a Max patch. Algorithms and control commands for the Ealing Feeder commands sit in the patch, so they’re completely integrated with other events in a piece (e.g. the timing of a vocal sample).

The Ealing Feeder was designed, built and programmed by composer and roboticist Sarah Angliss.

How did this project use Max?

Max plays this algorithmic music and creates the serial or midi commands which control the Ealing Feeder, a polyphonic robotic carillon which can perform at lighting speed.