In 2009, the Cybraphon - an autonomous robot made of 60 components shaped by instruments, antique machinery and objects found in junk shops - became the first object ever to win a BAFTA. Retaining the distinction to this day, it has now been donated to National Museums Scotland.
Experts describe the image-conscious, emotional machine as “moody”, “self-Googling” and “an interactive version of a mechanical band in a box”. Its software-powered brain is hidden in one of its wardrobe doors, and its scale of feeling ranges from desolation to delirium depending on how hotly-discussed it is on the internet.
“All Cybraphon activity rests in the hands of the online community,” says curator Alison Taubman, discussing the possible narcissism of an invention which monitors its search engine popularity every 15 seconds.
“As such, it provides the perfect means of displaying online social interaction in a unique way, manifested through an object.
“It captures its makers’ interest in social media interaction at a point in time, 2009, when the phenomenon was still relatively new.
“Its component parts, from gramophones and galvanometers to tobacco tins and Tibetan singing bowls, represent a microcosm of the Museum’s collections.
“Our next challenge is working out how we collect its website and online presence.”
Taubman says the Cybraphon’s link to the collections makes it a “unique and exciting” addition.
Its designers, Ziggy Campbell, Simon Kirby and Tommy Perman, of the Edinburgh-based collective FOUND, based their ploy on early 19th century inventions such as the nickelodeon self-playing piano, continuing the musical theme by firing off acoustic tracks based on its state of mind.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and MySpace can all affect its feelings, as well as reviews in local newspapers.
“We built Cybraphon as a mirror to our own obsession about numbers of ‘friends’, ‘followers’ and ‘likes’,” admits Kirby, a Professor who sees social media as creating an “evolutionary shift” in human interaction.
“We willingly upload our social lives into the cloud to be curated by a handful of internet companies.
“Alongside the benefits of increased social connectivity, we see the rise of a form of digital narcissism born from the statistics provided by these companies.
“Cybraphon automates more than just playing music – it suffers the same cycle of emotions that living in this new online world engenders.”
The acquisition has been made as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. A special event will welcome the machine to the museum on August 21.
- On display in the Discoveries gallery of the National Museum of Scotland from August 9 2013. Visit eif.co.uk/movements/cybraphon for more details and to book tickets.