Bit-52's: Robot band plays B-52's party classic "Rock Lobster"

Happy Friday, everyone. Tara McGinley at Dangerous Minds found this sweet video of a robot ensemble performing an all-machines cover of the classic '80s party hit "Rock Lobster," by the B-52's. It's the work of a fellow who goes by the name bd594 at YouTube, aka one mister James Cochrane of Toronto, Canada.

Video's at this YouTube link, and read more about it at Dangerous Minds.


  1. Really neat. I loved the scanners being part of it.

    After watching this very complicated robot I think I could make the argument that a player piano is also a robot, although a simpler one.

    1. Indeed! In fact, Gyorgy Ligeti (Most famously known for the compositions he wrote that Kubrick used) played around with barrel organs in what can be considered a proto-sampler/electronic music type of capacity.

  2. I cringed. My ears went back. Then I ran from the room and hid under the bed. I couldn’t stand the awful tuning!

  3. I do love Kate Pierson’s “skiduvedup… ooo!” being played by the scanner. And the fact that “Fred” is played by a Texas Instruments TI-994A which is only 2 years younger than the song itself is more than a little amazing.

    I would shower love all over this but for one thing: with all the effort required to build and program this thing, why can’t it play in better synchronicity?

    Well, it’s a minor quibble in the end. This kicks some fancy derriere.

  4. I wandered into the Wells Auto Museum on a vacation, up in Wells, Maine, expecting to see, well, you know. But to my surprise there were several old mechanical instruments. I remember a violin that was an amazing assembly of gears, cams, levers, that would play a tune when operated. There was even a gizmo that would automatically apply rosin to the bow. They were pretty old, from the late 19th to early 20th century. They also have tons of great old cars. I guess the urge to create machines to play music is pretty strong.
    This is a wonderful creation here, I can’t imagine the hours spent thinking it up and the trial and error to make it work.

  5. I’ve seen the B-52s live. They sucked. Of course, their opener was The Pretenders, who kick ass, so that may have had something to do with it. Regardless, this is way more awesome than they ever were live.

  6. As cool as this should have been, all he managed to do was drain all of the life out of this song. And the video only compounded this with nothing but close-ups. Poor thing is straight up bereft.

    1. “straight up bereft” — exactly what I expect from robots. They exist solely to drain the life out of things. Start making them soulful and they become frightening.

      I loved it because I hated it. Superb technical achievement!

  7. Nice idea but the instruments are way out of sync. He needed to adjust the delay timing of each instrument individually.

  8. Does anyone else find the horribly off rhythm finny? How is it that robots have worse rhythm than your average grade school orchestra?

    1. How is it that robots have worse rhythm than your average grade school orchestra?

      Well, because unlike an actual MIDI setup, the robots aren’t triggering the sounds directly and instantaneously; they’re physically plucking strings and hitting keys just like a person would, and those physical movements aren’t instantaneous. The finite amount of time it takes for each of the actuators to actually produce the tone needs to be taken into account, and the actual triggering signal timing advanced accordingly. Just like ignition advance in a car: the faster the engine goes, the earlier the spark needs to trigger, since the air/fuel mixture burns at a more or less constant rate, even as the pistons and valves move ever faster.

      The point is, it appears that the hard work is done. It just needs to be slightly reprogrammed so that the musical events that seem “late” are triggered earlier.

      1. thanks Donald, My name is James Cochrane and I created the video. You hit the nail on the head with respect to solenoids (aka actuators). I have updated my youtube video text information to explain just this reason. As for programming you are correct but the ammount of time to compensate for all those physical requirements would of made it too complicated. I left all all the mistakes in place because it is “live”. If the timing was too perfect then every one would complain and say it was a fake.

        1. You’ve done a great job. The slightly out of sync mechanisms make the whole thing much creepier and cooler!

  9. I thought it was pretty mind blowing. Sure, the syncing could be better, but it didn’t change my utter captivation from beginning to end. I just can’t imagine the work that must have taken to complete.

    Also kind of reminds me of [The User]’s ‘Symphony #1 for Dot Matrix Printers’:

    Incidentally I thought the B-52’s were really good live. Far more entertaining and energetic than Cyndi Lauper at the True Colours tour in Vancouver. I truly wanted to enjoy Cyndi’s performance but frankly she looked miserable and High as a Kite. A big disappointment from such a huge 80’s pop-culture icon and someone who’s supposed to be headlining the tour, only to be completely out-shown by the B-52’s (at least in my opinion).

  10. amazing piece of work…..can’t believe people are nit-picking over it……pure genius and in the spirit of the early B’s…A+

  11. Either that guitar has a string pretty badly out of tune, or the programming is playing a note wrong in that repeated guitar part. Very cool achievement and a lot of hard work, but it’s one of those things where the last 10% of effort could make it sound much much better–guitar pitch and as someone mentioned advancing the timing on some of the instruments a little.

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