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Modern Robot started as an instrumental, improvisational duo: Ben Singer playing keyboards (usually two) and Kyle Poehling playing drums. At first, projecting a movie behind the show was a decoration, but it was wonderful way to improvise and it immediately become the model for a series of about 50 performances.
Modern Robot played to to classic silent films, experimental animations, educational films, vintage ads, propaganda cartoons, NASA footage, and perhaps most effectively to industrial films, like “Modern Appliances“, featuring the latest advances in dishwashing and refrigeration of the 1950’s and “The Age of Machines“, which combined 1940’s optimistic outlooks of office automation with the decline of traditional steel mills.
In 2014, Kyle moved to New Orleans, where he continues to play music to film with Think Less Hear More. Ben took a turn to guitar and making Modern Robot’s shows more composed pieces.
First up was a score for a Charlie Chaplin classic, which Modern Robot performed for the Elsewhere extravaganza The Last Great Winter. Owing more than a bit to Bill Frisell, this show used a dreamy, modern take on country styles, and featured Sam Frazier on guitar and Matty Sheets on drums. Modern Robot went on to play this show at Bushwick’s late, great artsy dive Goodbye Blue Monday.
Also in 2014, Ben began work on a score for Murnau’s Faust (1926), first performed with drummer Nic Stott (Sun Cult and NVS Drums). In 2015, Modern Robot played this show at The Crown at Carolina Theatre, with Raleigh drummer Dale Baker (Sixpence None the Richer). Invisible joined the show for a rare set on their mechanical contraptions.
In 2015 Modern Robot presented At the Crossroads: Music for Faust at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, playing eleven shows with Glasgow drummer Phil Hague (Admiral Fallow and Auricle Ensemble). In a five-star review, Broadway Baby called it “a pulsating, breathtaking epic score of the film” and “a supremely good show”.
Encouraged by the artistic atmosphere of the Fringe circuit, Modern Robot took At the Crossroads to several fringes in 2016, beginning with the oldest Fringe Festival in the US, the Orlando Fringe. Downbeat award-winning drummer Paul Gavin accompanied Ben for this run, and the show was invited back for the 2017 Orlando Fringe Winter Mini-Fest, a hand-picked selection of audience favorites.
The same year, At the Crossroads was selected for the New York International Fringe Festival, playing it with New York drummer Spencer Cohen and winning an Overall Excellence Award for Music Composition. The show received 100% positive ratings on Show-Score, and reviewed as “absorbing and entertaining to genuinely heart-rending” and “beautifully percussive and melodic”.
At the 2016 San Francisco Fringe Festival, At the Crossroads was accompanied by Moe Staiano, an experimental composer, drummer, and performance artist of the Bay Area improvisation scene. The show was a Fringiest Pick at sfist.com, won a Best of Fringe award, and won the overall Techie’s Choice award for the Fringe.
In 2017, Ben premiered a score for George Romero’s 1968 zombie classic, Night of the Living Dead with drummer Nick Falk (Berklee, the Monk Institute, and Dori Freeman). In a new development for Modern Robot, this show included the dialog of the film, which required meticulous editing and recycling of the film’s existing foley.
Modern Robot brought Alive: Music for Night of the Living Dead to both the 2017 Orlando Fringe and for 24 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, where it was reviewed as “haunting” and with “suitably raging storms”. The horror festival FearNYC honored George A. Romero in 2017, and Modern Robot performed “Night of the Living Dead” at The Producer’s Club on West 44th St., Manhattan.
Ben Singer lives in Greensboro, NC, where he performs as a singer/songwriter, joins musicians on guitar and piano, films and edits music videos and documentaries, and writes music software. He most recently played the US/Canada tour of PostSecret: The Show.
For more, see bensinger.co