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2013 Archive: National Museums Scotland acquires Cybraphon

On display from Friday 9 August 2013 National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh Press View: Thursday 8 August, 9.30am – enter via Lothian Street entrance to the rear of the Museum, opposite Potterrow.

National Museums Scotland has acquired Cybraphon, the moody, self-Googling, autonomous robot band in a box. It will be displayed in the Discoveries gallery of the National Museum of Scotland from 9 August 2013 and will feature as part of the programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

Inspired by early 19th century inventions such as the nickelodeon self-playing piano, Cybraphon is an interactive version of a mechanical band in a box. Image conscious and emotional, it behaves like a real band, obsessively Googling itself every 15 seconds to see how popular it is. The results affect its emotional state – on a scale of ‘delirium’ to ‘desolation’ – which in turn affects its playing style.

Cybraphon was created in 2009 by Ziggy Campbell, Simon Kirby and Tommy Perman who comprise the Edinburgh-based artists’ collective FOUND. The work was commissioned by New Media Scotland's Alt-w Fund and won best Interactive at the BAFTA Scotland Awards in November 2009 – the only object ever to have won a BAFTA. The work is supported by the University of Edinburgh.

Cybraphon consists of a number of instruments, antique machinery and found objects from junk shops operated by over 60 robotic components, all housed in a modified wardrobe. Using custom software, Cybraphon’s ‘brain’ – hidden in one of the wardrobe doors– monitors the web and updates its emotions according to the rate at which its popularity is changing over time. All mentions of Cybraphon online that are indexed by Google are noted, as well as activity on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and MySpace.

A review in a local newspaper, for example, will almost certainly radically change the mood of the installation – and hence the music it plays – soon after it appears. However, Cybraphon is an insecure, egotistical band. A good review will cheer it up in the short term, but once the initial excitement dies down it will soon become disillusioned if its fame does not continue to increase.

Principal Curator of Communications at National Museums Scotland Alison Taubman comments:

"All Cybraphon activity rests in the hands of the online community and as such 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. This makes it a unique and exciting acquisition for the Communications collections. Our next challenge is working out how we collect its website and its online presence!"

The acoustic music that Cybraphon plays spans a range of emotional states and is all composed by FOUND, who coincidentally played at the first RBS Museums Lates event at the National Museum of Scotland. Which tracks will be played at any point in time entirely depends on Cybraphon’s mood, which rests entirely in the hands of the online community.

Professor Simon Kirby comments:

"The advent of social media marks an evolutionary shift in the way our species interacts, as 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. We built Cybraphon as a mirror to our own obsession about numbers of "friends", "followers" and "likes". A player piano for the 21st century, Cybraphon automates more than just playing music – it suffers the same cycle of emotions that living in this new online world engenders."

To celebrate Cybraphon’s arrival, Professor Simon Kirby will join National Museums Scotland’s Keeper of Science and Technology, Alexander Hayward and Principal Curator of Communications, Alison Taubman, and New Media Scotland’s Mark Daniels for a special Edinburgh International Festival event to welcome it to the Museum. The event is part of Movements, a series of fascinating talks and events exploring how artists have kept pace with technology over the centuries and how, in turn, technology influences their work.

Jonathan Mills, Edinburgh International Festival Director said:

"We are thrilled to include Cybraphon amongst our more unusual musical contraptions in this year’s Festival. Talented minds behind FOUND brought to life this autonomous and rather obsessive robot whose capricious behaviour turns from despondency to delirium in the twinkle of Tweet. It is the latest example of emotional engineering from the innovative heart of our creative nation."

Tickets for the event on Wednesday 21 August are on sale now at

Commissioned by New Media Scotland's Alt-w Fund with investment from Creative Scotland. Supported by Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and the University of Edinburgh. Find out more about Cybraphon here.

Available for interview:

  • Professor Simon Kirby and Ziggy Campbell, Cybraphon’s creators

  • Jonathan Mills, Director, Edinburgh International Festival

  • Alison Taubman, Principal Curator of Communications, National Museums Scotland

  • Alexander Hayward, Keeper of Science and Technology, National Museums Scotland

Note to Editors

  • National Museums Scotland looks after museum collections of national and international importance and provides loans, partnerships, research and training in Scotland and internationally. Our individual museums are the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National War Museum. The National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh houses conservation and research facilities as well as collections not currently on display.

  • The National Museum of Scotland reopened in summer 2011 following a three-year, £47m redevelopment. Since then it has been awarded the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Award for the number one museum in the UK, 6th in Europe and 18th in the world. It has entered the top ten most popular UK visitor attractions (ALVA), becoming the most popular attraction in the country outside of London. And with nearly 1.9 million visitors in 2012, the Museum has just entered the top 20 most popular art museums and galleries in the world (The Art Newspaper).

  • Edinburgh International Festival 2013 features over 2,200 artists from more than 35 nations in three weeks of the finest of the world’s theatre, dance, music and opera against the stunning backdrop of the world’s Festival city, Edinburgh. For full programme information visit

Further information and images from Esme Haigh, Bruce Blacklaw or Susan Gray, Press Office, tel 0131 247 4391 or email

Edinburgh International Festival press office: Susie Burnet +44 (0)131 473 2020 or

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