EPROM thrives off the uncertainty of new technology. In his decade as an electronic music producer and touring artist, he’s taken each new innovation as an opportunity for experimentation.
“I’m always looking for new techniques because there’s a moment where you’re uncovering how [the technology] works. Figuring out how everything works is the moment when you’re being the most experimental; I love producing music in that state because you’re not necessarily thinking about the finished product. You’re thinking about the process more, and that’s what’s interesting for me,” says EPROM, real name Sander Dennis, speaking to MusicTech from his home studio.
Much of this experimentation happens in the realm of music (his artist name, EPROM, is the name for a chip Oberheim used in its early synthesizers, after all), crafting intricate and formidable productions on respected labels such as Dirtybird, Deadbeats, and 1985 Music as well as collaborations with fellow bass titans like G Jones and Alix Perez, with the latter of which he has a joint project: Shades.
But his compulsion to experiment extends to technological pursuits both within and outside of music.
Graphics, 3D software, HTML, and more are all in his purview, and now he’s demonstrated prowess in robotics, which he applies in his new live show concept, Syntheism Robotics.
The name of the show is an allusion to his latest album, Syntheism.
“[Syntheism] is a movement that [asks], ‘What if we deify that which we create rather than something external? What if the products of everything that we do is the higher power?’” Dennis says. “It’s a reverence for the products of human civilisation. It ties into my personal beliefs on creativity.”
The Syntheism Robotics live concept is a manifestation of his beliefs, with the first show taking place this past April in Portland, Oregon.
This kind of show has never been done before, and Dennis is already reconfiguring the process for the second performance at Denver’s Mission Ballroom on July 29.
Dennis worked with Motorized Precision, a robotics and cinematography company, to integrate two of the brand’s robotic camera arms (known as Kuka Robots) into his live set. Instead of cameras though, each arm is holding an LED screen, and the robots move in time with Dennis’s music while he’s performing.
The robots add another dimension of movement to the live show, while the images on the screens sync with the stage lighting and the imagery on the larger screen at the back of the stage.
“When [the robots] start moving, it’s a major moment. The motion is the most amazing part of it,” Dennis says. “It’s a spectacle. It’s fun to create this show where a lot more of the focus is on the visuals.”
Visuals have always been crucial to the EPROM project, and also an essential part of Dennis’ upbringing and his relationship with technology.
Alongside his musical pursuits, which began at age 13 when he started producing with Propellerhead’s Rebirth and Sony Acid Music, Dennis was also learning visuals. He went on to study film and digital media at UC Santa Cruz, and worked in design for a number of years after graduating.
And now, as EPROM, Dennis is directly involved in designing all of the visuals with his art director Jackson Green – whether it’s the cover art found on his releases or images on LED screens during the live show.
“I’m a very visual-oriented person,” Dennis says. “Anything I can do where I’m using my computer is fun for me.”
The robots from Motorized Precision were just another fun thing for Dennis to do on his computer. They allowed him to further explore his relationship with visual technology.
After discovering Motorized Precision – which, like Dennis, is based in Portland, Oregon – his manager made the connection between them. And Dennis had one idea in mind in their first conversation:
“‘I want to put visuals on robots and have them move.’ That’s kind of what [Dennis] said,” says Sean Brown, CEO of Motorized Precision, speaking to MusicTech.
Collaboratively, Dennis, Brown, and the MP team designed the screens that the robot arms were holding and added circular LED panels to the base of the robots. When it came time to ideate the robots’ movements, Dennis tapped into his decades of experience in creating with computers and dove into the experimentation of it all.
Each move the robots perform during the show is preprogrammed, and Dennis designed all of them using Motorized Precision’s custom software, MP Studio.
“Right away, with very little instruction at all, [Dennis] was able to create all these moves like a pro. That’s a huge testament to his knowledge as an artist and our software as a simple intuitive interface that anybody can use,” says Brown.
Dennis created 90 minutes worth of moves in a month and a half. And, with MP Studio, he was able to perfectly align each move with his music, thanks to the timeline-based software.
“The software is amazing. I’m pretty familiar with 3D software already so that helped, but it’s great. You can load up your song and drop keyframes on the kicks and snares.” Dennis says. “Each song has its own move and a move is essentially a timeline of keyframes of positions for the robot arm to be in, in terms of its XYZ coordinates as well as the rotation of the last joint in the arm.”
According to Brown, in making these moves happen on a technical level, the robots have sub-millimetre accuracy, so the robots always move in the exact same way. Everyone seeing a Syntheism Robotics show will see the same moves (if Dennis decides to keep the same keyframes that is).
The robots can also move over six meters per second, so there is massive capacity when it comes to speed. Plus, they have unlimited axis-4 and unlimited axis-6, which means they can move in any direction and create any sort of path possible.
With these impressive capabilities at its disposal, Motorized Precision has used its robots in TV and film productions attached to some of the biggest names in the industry. It’s worked with Marvel, Disney, Apple, and CNN, using Kuka Robots on red carpet events and in major motion pictures like Free Guy with Ryan Reynolds.
But using the robots for music was different from all of those prior applications.
“The approach for a film would be, ‘Here’s the shot we’re trying to achieve,’ whether you do it ahead of time and show up ready to go or do it on set live. This one was a lot more on [Dennis] to design,” says Brown. “There have been screens on robots before, but it is definitely the first time it’s been done in this market, and I haven’t seen it quite like this before.”
Normally, MP wouldn’t license out its software to a client. And while Dennis didn’t have complete access to the actual robots, he had autonomy over designing the moves in MP Studio’s virtual space, which Brown and the team would then tweak and advise for safety and other technical concerns.
With everything dialled in, it’s on Dennis to launch each of the robot’s movements on stage in real time as he’s handling all the music as well. To integrate these two processes, he uses MIDI to control the robots via a custom Max4Live patch.
One MIDI note from the patch queues the next move, and another note launches the move.
“The Max4Live patch is just listening for MIDI notes on a specific channel, and when it receives a note it formats a message with the MIDI note encoded as an integer at the end, which corresponds to a move ID,” Dennis says. “This happens at the beginning of each song that requires robot moves, ensuring that everything runs on time.”
As a result of his experimentation with this technology, Dennis is already conceiving new musical techniques. One example is recording the actual noises the robots make when they move, then processing them into his productions.
Whether it’s recording new samples from Kuka Robots, calling upon tools such as Arturia’s V Collection synths, or using new production tools like an M8 tracker that’s based on a GameBoy tracker software called LSDJ, they all contribute to Dennis’s reverence for the products of human civilisation.
One particular tool that Dennis leaned on in Syntheism and throughout his catalogue is Ableton’s Granulator.
During production sessions, Dennis will often spend the morning making a version of a track, take a break for lunch, then bounce the original version and run the entire thing through Granulator – chopping it up into bits and pieces that he says he could have never imagined on his own.
“You end up with these internal fragments of melody that when you loop them…you would never think to write a melody that way,” Dennis says. “Any process that can have a little bit of human agency and a little bit of generative chaos is gold for me.”
Dennis has produced a unique live show rife with innovation and experimentation. As a devout technophile, the producer may well be inspiring a new precedent for electronic music performance. Just like Amon Tobin with his ISAM show, deadmau5 with his Cube stage, and Daft Punk with their pyramid, EPROM is showing fellow artists what can be achieved when embracing new technology and adding a sprinkling of chaos.
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