Monday, September 29, 2008

MP3 Experiment 5 in New York City

Originally my plans for this weekend included mostly alone time with school textbooks, but ended up being exponentially more exciting! Friday morning immediately after taking a shower, as I usually do, I checked my email. In my inbox was a rather interesting email from James Cobalt, the director of Boston SOS. He was asking if any of our members were interested in participating in Improv Everywhere's fifth annual "MP3 Experiment".


If you're not already familiar with the concept of an "MP3 Experiment", it goes like this:

  • Tens, hundreds, or thousands of people that for the most part do not know each other download an MP3 file off a website and load it on to their MP3 player. It is critical that you do not listen to this file until you are instructed to do so.
  • All these people meet up at a specified location at a specified time. With their clocks synchronized, all participants watch the time closely, and press play.
  • Listeners are verbally encouraged, via the voices on the MP3, to participate in individual and group activities, with fellow participants or occasionally nearby strangers, that most likely differ from the social norm one would expect.
  • Usually during such an event, many or all activities are photographed or recorded on digital video and uploaded to the internet for future viewing by anyone.

Originally I didn't plan on accepting this invitation, as I had a stockpile of work to get done. After some smooth convincing on James' part, I bought Saturday 7:30am ticket out of South Station in Boston to 34th&8th in NYC for a mere $37.00. The ride, by Bolt Bus, was a much needed upgrade from those Asian buses. The bus had comfortable seats, electric plugs, mobile wireless internet, an on-board bathroom, and most importantly, a fantastic American (and thus English speaking) driver! It turned out that with such short notice, only three of us Bostonians could make it down the following morning.

Arriving in New York City for the first time, I was not amazed at the buildings, but rather at the volume of pedestrians moving about on the sidewalk. Compared to NYC, Boston is rather deserted. We immediately went into Penn Station, and boarded the subway to lower Manhattan. Again, I was shocked at the number of people on the subway platform. We boarded the ferry to Governor's Island, as the instructions on Improv Everywhere's site said. To view the instructions as we saw them, click here. Upon arriving, it was obvious that something was up. There were photographers, free umbrellas, and a sign that read:


IMPORTANT NOTICE.
GENERATE/L.C. INC. will be filming in this area for various future uses in connection with the program tentatively entitled "MP3 EXPERIMENT", including, without limitation, exploitation on all forms of television, home entertainment devices, theatrical distribution and/or any other form of reproduction or exhibition now known or hereafter devised. By entering this area where filming is taking place you hereby consent to the possibly reproduction of your name, voice and/or likeness in connection with any of the foregoing forms of subsequent exploitation of today's/tonight's filming, including all advertising and/or promotion therefore, and you now and forever expressly waive any claims you may have in connection therewith. If you object in any way to the foregoing, please STAY OUT OF THE AREA WHERE FILMING IS TAKING PLACE. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated. Thank you. GENERAL/L.C. INC.


We had until 3:15 before we had to press play on our MP3 players, so we wandered around the island looking at some of the bizarre artwork that was scattered about, and eventually ran into Charlie Todd, the founder of Improv Everywhere. As time drew closer, more and more people began showing up and crowding around the hot dog stand.



As our watches read 3:15, approximately 1000 of us all simultaneously began pressing play. Most of the MP3 was of "Steve, the omnipotent voice from above", voiced by Charlie Todd. Starting off with some stretches and simple exercises, everyone began to loosen up. I will make sure to post the official video that Improv Everywhere releases, but that could take a while. I won't spoil all the details now, but you'll get a general impression of how it went. Early on, we had a thumb war, where participants had to challenge another with a different colored shirt. It so happened that everyone in my area was already color-matched, except two guys both wearing blue shirts who were sharing an MP3 player, each with an earbud in one ear. I found this particularly challenging, as I was in two thumb wars at a time, one with each hand.



After many easy, mostly individual events, we were told to group to the center of Governor's Island, walking while spinning our umbrellas in the air.


Many of the activities we proceeded to do were just amazing to experience, such as packing tightly together and opening our umbrellas over our heads, creating a canopy that blocked out much of the sun, making it significantly darker. Using the four colors of shirts participants were expected to wear, we grouped together and made Tetris pieces, and then combined into to form larger shapes.


The final activity we did, the EPIC BATTLE, certainly lived up to its name, in one way or another. Dividing into two groups, the Blue/Green shirted and the Red/Yellow shirted, we gathered at opposite sides of the field and inflated balloons to use as weapons. As instructed, we marched forward whistling a battle march on imaginary flutes and drums. As we stood face to face, we rushed into each other. I recorded much of this chaos and posted the video to YouTube; you can watch it at the bottom of this post.


After all was over with, and we recovered from the treacherous battle, we swarmed to the dock to load into ferries. Surprisingly, we were only divided into two groups, but took up most of the floor space on both ferries. As you can see in the picture below, the dark center of the ferry designated for parked cars was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with MP3 participants returning to Manhattan. Cheering and singing, we all made it safely back to shore. Before returning to Boston, we made a quick visit to Times Square in downtown Manhattan so I could be the typical tourist and take loads of photographs of the immaculately lit skyscrapers and the streets flooded with people and yellow taxi cabs. I hope you enjoyed this very long post, check back periodically for updates on my spontaneous lifestyle!



The "EPIC BATTLE" at the end of MP3 Experiment 5:
(note: all audio is from the MP3 audio track provided and is property of Improv Everywhere and its affiliates)


The MP3 Experiment Tour


MP3 Experiment 5 (New York)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MP3EXP Recap

Yesterday was amazing! I drove to Boston to make it by 2:30 just to make sure I got there on time. I showed up, and there were small groups of people in colored shirts, waiting for the MP3 Experience. I met up with some regulars from Boston SOS and we synchronized our watches. Right before the clock struck three o'clock, several people began a countdown-- "ten, nine, eight...". Everyone got silent and began listening to the MP3 we had all downloaded just days before. No one knew what to expect in the next hour and nine minutes. (If you want to hear it for yourself, click HERE)

It began with the left and right sides of your brain chatting to each other, with the stereo sound switching channels back and forth. We began doing some simple activities to get everyone loosened up.


"Hey, why don't we try smiling for a moment? Smile as big as you can! Can you smile with your eyes closed? I can smile with your eyes closed. Now lets wink at all our new friends. We're winking because we're in on it. We know something the others don't. Wink, wink! Can you wink while keeping both your eyes closed? Not easy, is it?"

Then Steve, The Omnipotent Voice From Above from Improv Everywhere was introduced, watching down on us. He made us separate up and begin spinning very quickly. After we stopped spinning, we had to go shake the hands of all our new friends. This was rather difficult, and even when I tried to stopped moving, I felt myself trying to fall down to the left.

The narrator came back on and made us freeze as statues for five minutes. You really don't know how long five minutes is until you have to stand there without moving. Some people made obvious bad decisions on their poses, and were struggling to keep still. Right after we unfroze, we had to hide. I hid under a park bench, and many people nearby hid behind small pillars. We tip-toed around to other hiding spots.

The next segment was a wildlife hunt, where we had to find bugs, wing├ęd birds, fishes, and the ferocious half-mouse/half-spiders/half-man-eating-tiger (the squirrel). The audio effects were done with such precision that it gave the illusion that there were seagulls flying overhead, when there wasn't at all.

There were some other ridiculous events, like smelling flowers, hugging inanimate objects (and then the entire park as a group effort), dancing, surfing, and posing as groups in our colored shirts, a runway fashion show, and a corral-the-cows (people in green shirts were the cows), walking and riding horses like a cowboy, and singing (quite unsynchronized).

We ended up at the Aquarium's plaza, quickly taking over the entire area. We walked around giving very suspicious glares at each other and strangers. All at once, we pulled out our finger-pistols and held them up pointing at everyone. As we shouted "bang, bang", we fell to the ground, leaving no survivors.

Overall, it was a fantastic day -- more than I could have ever hoped for with this type of event. I don't know when the next MP3 Experience will take place, but I will most definitely be there, and you should too!

Here's some pictures I took during the event. I participated in everything, thus did not take a video. I'll link some in a few days when they start making an appearance on YouTube. Stay tuned!


( Photography © Chris Andrews )


The "finger bang" gunfight in the Aquarium plaza: