Outside of the seasonal showcases for NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, you'd be hard-pressed to find an event in New York that packs so many novel art and technology experiments under one roof. This year's Spring Show, which ran Monday and Tuesday at the Tisch School in Manhattan's lower east side, was no exception: ITP students continue to play in the backyard of a bizarre and exciting new media fringe, creating all manner of contraptions, software, and ideas that drive fresh conversations about our rapidly-evolving tech landscape.
One of the show's most unusual projects opens such a dialogue without actually utilizing the technology it describes: Guilherme Costa and Stephanie Kleinman's "GoogleBooth" re-imagines the search engine as a giant, opaque cube acting as a mysterious kind of information kiosk. Queries are written on sheets of paper and slipped through a "search" mail slot, and returned through a second slot with results at some later time. A peek behind the curtain reveals a lone woman, dutifully scouring through piles of reference books and surrounded by article clippings plastered to the walls - a celebration of the lost art of learning through research and study, re-contextualized within the bounds of a search bar.
Plenty of other projects do still embrace the conveniences of modern tech, however. Down one hallway we found some software that allows participation through voice calls on mobile phones. "UP," a collaborative game seemingly inspired by the film of the same name, involves getting a house to rise into the clouds by having players call a number on their cell phones; each connected call generates a balloon, which the players fill with air by blowing into their receivers.
Nearby, "Call Your Sequencer," a more complicated project with a similar idea: each caller controls a horizontal track within an 8-step music sequencer, allowing them to turn individual steps on and off by hitting the corresponding number keys on their phone. You could also change the pitch and shuffle the software instrument being used by pressing pound and star.
Behind the sequencer sat perhaps the most unusual device at the show, at least in function. Marko Manriquez's "Burrito b0t" uses a series of extruders, an air pump, and custom Makerbot-based machinery to 3D print an edible, customizable permutation of the ubiquitous Mexican delicacy. The contraption — which for better or worse was not feeding anyone with liquified burritos during the show due to the noisiness of its air pump — was created as a slight against assembly line labor practices and mass-production in the fast food industry (but also, Manriquez says, as a genuine reflection of his love of gastronomy).
The showing was almost overwhelming in scope, with every possible nook and cranny of the Tisch building's 4th floor occupied by some curious interactive contraption or presentation. Though if I had to choose a highlight, I'd point to Deqing Sun and Inessah Selditz's "Plinko Poetry," an interesting take on the classic game of chance which uses news tickers and a color-tracking camera to construct a string of absurd non-sequiturs. The text, pulled alternatingly from the New York Times and Fox News twitter feeds, is assembled with the help of the camera, which tracks the position of the player's translucent red token as it falls past scrolling news tickers. The device then tweets the resulting poems, which often come out reading suspiciously like real headlines ("Freedom clues Divided: Toddler Killed secretary Profit superheroes.") and sometimes even catch an errant hashtag, with humorous or unsettling results ("Unit daughter, Diets of Next in Abortion #KentuckyDerby").
The "Thing Synth" can turn any object into a tunable instrument, with surprisingly precise control.
Close by to the elevators, arriving visitors could hear the whirs, clangs, and clicks of "Bricolo," a mechanical music system made up of sensors and solenoids that integrates physical objects into digital sequencing environments. One of the system's components, the "Thing Synth," can turn any object (in this case, an old book) into a tunable instrument with surprisingly precise control. Its creator, Nick Yulman, hopes that this will eventually enable more electronic musicians to make use of robotic instruments.
Wandering in unawares, one might confuse parts of the show with a kind of high-tech carnival. While a great deal of projects focused on digital fabrication and data visualization (one amusing example had fabricated sex toys from volumetric graphs of the Republican presidential candidates' approval ratings) there were also plenty of motion cameras, Arduino boards, and accelerometers turning ordinary things into extraordinary digital attractions. A software-reactive drumset, a playground swing that doubled as an interactive audio installation, and a gesture-controlled Kinect game that lets you (with some effort) conduct a virtual chorus were among the whimsical pieces on display.
ITP has long been an incubator for these kinds of experiments, and several of this year's projects have already sparked a great deal of discussion. The widely-covered Kickstriker, a satirical but unnervingly prescient platform for crowd-funding wars, and the previously-noted Descriptive Camera, which uses Amazon's Mechanical Turk to output text descriptions of the scenes it captures rather than photos, are just a few examples dealing with issues that we should expect to be talking about later.
Look below for more photos from the show, and check ITP's website for a complete list of projects.