Byrne and Julio Down By The Schoolyard

David Byrne, in his always-thought-provoking journal, writes about his current collaboration with robotics designer David Hanson to build an emotionally singing robot, dubbed Julio. The project, “Voice of Julio” or “Voz de Julio” will be on display at the “Máquinas y Almas” exhibit at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain.

Julio has been designed and programmed to sing a song recorded by Byrne for the exhibit. But Julio has also been programmed to mimic real human emotions. Byrne describes singing as:

“not just the vibrating of the vocal chords and the mouth moving to create the proper syllables and timbres; it’s also tied to a host of emotions that play across the muscles and tissues of the face and neck. The movements of these muscles, the facial expressions, give us clues as to what the singer is feeling, what the singer intends to communicate and what the song means.”

Byrne believes that Julio will elicit some uneasiness within the viewer because Julio’s appearance and performance resides within the “uncanny valley.” Julio will play upon the emotional dynamic that exists between the singer/performer and the listener/observer:

“Knowing that singing elicits an emotional reaction from a listener and observer, I sense that encountering Julio might push some very odd buttons. I remember that my first encounter with Hanson’s robot made me rethink what it means to see, to look.”

It would probably be uncouth to dress Julio in an oversize cream-colored suit, but it’s funny to imagine. Byrne’s much more eloquent description and pictures of the “Voice of Julio” exhibit can be found at

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