Les Robots-Music – vol.1

Les Robots-Music - vol.1 LP front cover
Les Robots-Music - vol.1 LP back cover
Les Robots-Music - vol.1 LP side A

In the 1940s and 1950s, shortly after the emergence of cybernetic robots  like Grey Walter‘s electronic turtles Elmer and Elsie or Ross Ashby‘s Homeostat prototype, both in 1948, a number of animatronic robot orchestras were unveiled around the world.

Belgium was the playground of Zenon Specht‘s robot band named Trio Fantastique, active in Antwerp’s Robot Club and in Paris department stores in 1954 (see Billboard 1954 article below) and Lens, France in 1959 (see here). The owner of the Robot Club, Specht based his robot musicians trio on electricity-controlled, piano roll technology, with a repertoire that included anything from classical music to tango, jazz and popular songs. The band, consisting of guitarist Wink, drummer Blink and saxophonist Nod, performed at funfairs and department stores.

Trio FantastiqueTrio Fantastique, Billboard article, May 1954

In the US, after audio animatronics examples implemented in Walt Disney theme parks during the 1960s, Chuck E. Cheese‘s terrific Pizza Time Theatre orchestra opened in San Jose, California in 1977. Active between 1977 and 1984 in various Chuck E. Cheese pizza-and-arcade parlors, the Pizza Time Theatre was conceived by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and consisted of the following characters: Chuck E. Cheese and Helen Henny on vocals, Mr. Munch on keyboards, Jasper T. Jowls on guitar and Pasqually on percussion and accordion. Note, at the beginning, Chuck E. Cheese performed while smoking a cigarette.

Chuck E. Cheese’s main competitor was Aaron Fechter‘s Rock-Afire Explosion, an animatronic robot band playing rhythm and blues and rock’n’roll in Showbizz Pizza Place restaurants, active between 1980 in 1992. Created by Aaron Fechter and his company Creative Engineering, Inc. in Orlando, Florida, the life-sized characters wore animated latex masks and were partially computer controlled. They move in synch with whatever track is played but don’t produce sound themselves. Rock-Afire and Pizza Time Theatre eventually merged in 1984.


To no surprise, the French animatronic orchestra Les Robots-Music created by Edouard Diomgar during the 1950s are closer to the Trio Fantastique than Rock-Afire Explosion. An ex-POW in Germany during WWII, Diomgar was an engineer willing to raise money for his ex-POWs relief foundation (whose logo can be seen on the bass drum). During the 1950s and 1960s, he exhibited his robots trio at fun fairs, open air markets or train stations in France. The trio consisted of Ernest, a saxophonist, Oscar, an accordionist and Anatole, the drummer, each playing real, traditional instruments. Automatically synchronized, the bots’ movements are impulsed by photoelectric cells reading punch cards, sending information to arms and fingers via electromagnetic action. Most importantly, the robots actually produce music from their instruments, contrary to playback systems in US animatronic. Only the sound of the saxophone is replaced by what sounds like a mechanical Ondioline. Their repertoire includes everything from French musette accordion and popular songs, twist and rock’n’roll numbers from the 1960s, US musicals (#1, Leonard Bernstein) or jazz (#6, Sidney Bechet). On other discs – there were four LPs by Les Robots-Music released in the late 1960s and 1970s – they also cover waltzes by Johann Strauss or French operetta. Les Robots-Music were exhibited during an all-robot show in Berlin’s Museum für Kommunikation in 2007 – some pictures on this Flickr page.

01 America (2:04)
02 Frou-Frou (1:44)
03 Rock-Des-Robots (2:05)
04 Le Dénicheur (1:47)
05 El Bimbo (1:56)
06 Petite Fleur (2:05)
07 Coucou (1:44)
08 Chant Des Partisans (2:13)
09 Perle De Cristal (3:08)
10 Ramaja (2:18)
11 Elza (1:55)
12 Rock Around The Clock (2:11)
13 La Comparsita (2:20)
14 Gigi Lamoureux (2:13)
15 Enfants Du Pirée (2:06)
16 Mon Manège A Moi (2:07)

Total time 40:00
LP released by Disques Cobra, France, late 1960s


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7 Responses to “Les Robots-Music – vol.1”

  1. 1 vincent July 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    They play better than real musician !

  2. 2 continuo July 18, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Better than some musicians, indeed!

  3. 3 Jeremy July 19, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Ha.. The robots in the electric feel video are the ones that use to play at Showbizz Pizza before Chuckie Cheese bought them out in the early eighties. I was almost fried by the gorilla.When I was a small child I asked my mom if I could go up on stage where the robots were,she thought I meant where the other children were at.I quickly went up on stage and was about to grab ahold of the gorilla when this man screams “Nooooooooooo!!!” and dives to roll me off the stage.He said that if I had touched them that I would have gotten a couple hundred thousands volts sent through me.. ~TymexPyres

  4. 4 continuo July 19, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Thanks for this first-hand experience. The Rock-Afire Explosion robots look pretty ugly to me, but apparently the child loved them. Maybe thanks to the ‘delicious’ pizzas?

  5. 6 continuo July 20, 2011 at 9:58 am

    You’re welcome.

  6. 7 Pablo August 29, 2013 at 11:27 am

    The links seems to be dead… do you have other? Thanks!

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