Pat Metheny Recording with Musical Robots

Pat Metheny
Jimmy Katz

Pat Metheny (photo by Jimmy Katz)

As one of the most popular, creative and prolific jazz musicians of his generation, Pat Metheny has never rested on his laurels. He’s tasted incredible commercial success with his group, yet also experimented with all sorts of creative explorations – from Song X with Ornette Coleman to the aptly titled Zero Tolerance for Silence. And, over the course of his 30+ years as a recording artist and performer, Metheny has played with a wide range of his peers and mentors. And now, inspired both by his own explorations with technology and the player-piano of his childhood, he’s about to play with some machines.

Pat Metheny has announced on his web site that his next recording will be the Orchestrion project, which entails the guitarist working solo with what might best be described as musical robots. Actually, we don’t really know how to describe it, so we’ll let him do it. Here is an excerpt of what Metheny wrote on the site:

“In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, as player pianos emerged (pianos played mechanically by moving rolls of paper through a mechanism that physically moved the keys), the next logical step was to apply that same principle to a range of orchestral instruments, often including percussion and mallet instruments. These large instrument arrays were called Orchestrions.

“For a number of years now, I have been gathering the forces of a group of talented and innovative inventors and technicians from around the country to construct a large palette of acoustic sound-producing devices that I can organize as a new kind of Orchestrion. The principle instruments have been designed and built for me by the incredibly talented Eric Singer, who is a major innovator in this area of engineering. A small number of musicians have been doing things like this in recent years as the mechanics of it all has evolved. And naturally, in many ways, it has been as much about the technology as the musical result. My only goal here, however, is a musical one.”

He added this candid postscript: “I have realized by now that as much as I can describe this project, even the people closest to me have had no idea what I was talking about until they have actually heard the music and had an encounter with it all in action. So, even having written all of the above, I know for sure that you still have to experience it yourself to really know what it is.”

We really loved what he did with living musicians, so we have to assume that Metheny knows good music when he hears it. Heck, the list of his drummers alone tells you that the robots have some tough acts to follow: Bob Moses, Danny Gottlieb, Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Stewart, Billy Higgins and Antonio Sanchez. We assigned David R. Adler to check out a demonstration by Metheny this week in NYC. But we can all hear for ourselves in early 2010 when the recording comes out and we can see for ourselves when he tours the project early in the coming year.

For Metheny’s own eloquent statement about the genesis of this project, you can visit his web site.