Battle of The Working Man: An 8-Hour Recital

Earlier this week we attended one of the most compelling musical performances we have ever experienced, Lautaro Mantilla’s Doctorate in Musical Arts Recital titled: Battle of The Working Man.


Battle of the working man is the first concert of a series where Lautaro Mantilla (DMA, Contemporary Improvisation) explores some of the struggles of the contemporary society. Battle of the working man is an eight-hour set of improvised music reflecting on the dilemma of humans being replaced by machines during the standard eight-hour work day. This battle includes a humanoid machine that will randomly select sounds and video from a variety of excerpts composed, collected, or improvised by Mantilla. Some of these sounds include excerpts from environmental noise and electronic sounds among others. The audience is invited to participate by playing an electric guitar with the humanoid machine’s robotic arms while a performer will improvise responding to the sounds and noises happening in the room and battling the machine.

In the late 18th century, during the Industrial Revolution, companies attempted to maximize the output of their factories by keeping them running as many hours as possible, implementing a “sun up to sun down” workday. According to the US National Labor Union in 1890, manufacturing employees worked an average of 100 hours a week. In the late 19th and early 20th century, labor groups started a campaign to have people work no more than 8 hours per day. The slogan was “Eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.” It wasn’t until the 1950’s that most Americans actually achieved the eight-hour workday.

The industrial revolution also allowed the use of complex mechanics and the introduction to electricity to power small compact machines. In the early 20th century the idea of a humanoid machine was created. Throughout history, times of rapid technological progress have stoked fears of jobs losses. More than 80 years ago, the renowned English economist John Maynard Keynes warned of a “new disease” of “technological unemployment.” Today, it is the rise of artificial intelligence that is arousing concern. Examining the topic, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, researchers at Oxford University, estimated that 49 percent of jobs in the United States were at risk from automation and that it’s just a matter of time before the advance of technology makes most of today’s workers useless, creating “a World without work”.

-Is the eight-hour workday possible for an improviser/performer?

-Are technology and machines going to take over music and art?

-For how long can an improviser/performer hold a battle with a machine in the highest level of intensity?

-Is the machine going to run out of power or crash?

-Is the quality of the music going to decrease with time during these eight hours?

-Is this piece about time?

-Is this piece about labor?

-Is it worth a battle?

The Artist

Lautaro Mantilla is a guitarist, composer, and improviser from Bogotá, Colombia. He has a Bachelor of Music in classical guitar from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (Colombia), a M.M with Academic Honors in Contemporary Improvisation, and a G.D. in Composition, both from New England Conservatory (NEC), where he studied with Eliot Fisk, Joe Morris, Anthony Coleman, and Carla Kihlstedt.

He has performed both his music and the music of others in major institutions and venues in the US and Colombia such as Harvard University, MIT, Teatro Colon, Teatro Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango, among others.

Mantilla is the department Chair of Contemporary Improvisation Preparatory School and Continuing Education at NEC and he is a DMA candidate in Composition where he studies with the director of the NEC Electronic Music Studio, John Mallia.

The Performance

Before entering the room we read the instructions:

Instructions for the audience

Once we entered the room, we saw Lautaro completely focused on his performance:

Lautaro’s setup

We stayed for one hour and saw about 8-10 people engaged with the artist, they followed the instructions and used the levers to move the robotic arms and “battle” with Lautaro. Here is a short video that shows what the battle was all about:

Congratulations to Lautaro Mantilla for this amazing 8-hour long performance, his commitment and stamina are remarkable!!

Here are some additional photos taken in “The Battle of The Working Man”, enjoy!



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