It wouldn’t be SXSW with a handful of experiences that explore the boundaries of the weird and wonderful parts of technology. Last night I had the pleasure of interacting with a giant, stark white ‘playground’ that looked like one part Chuck E. Cheese interactive station and one part Zordon’s command center.
The experience, called the Audience Reactive Compilation (ARC) instrument, was the key showpiece at the Digital Interplay Lab run by Deloitte Digital at the festival. Designed in partnership with installation artists Dave & Gabe, the instrument relies on randomly generated melodies developed by André Allen Anjos, better known as electronic musician RAC, and allows even the least musically gifted human to affect the composition with one of five interactive instruments.
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“This activation is a fun and creative way for us to express ourselves, and get people thinking and talking about the larger definition of digital and what the future of interactive could be,” Rob Frazzini, Chief Transformation Officer at Deloitte Digital, said of the project.
When interacting with the ARC, the sounds and the lights are very overwhelming — and on purpose. The installation features more than 20 speakers and 20,000 LED lights, installed by artist Beau Burrows, that blip and flash not only on the ARC itself but in a fixed circle around the participants. Anjos told me that the modular melodies pouring out of those speakers are procedurally generated, and the ARC could continue indefinitely fore more than 25,000 years and never play the same thing twice.
And that’s without humans doing anything around it. The machine itself relies on non-traditional interaction — touching lighted bars, rolling a big ball, or pulling on tubes — to affect the way the music pours out of the speakers. The way people touch the machine might add a new instrument like hand claps, or speed up the tempo. One of the instruments is a “master mix” machine that raises or lowers the volume of individual elements.
The result is a machine that one would sigh, “Only here, at SXSW.” It’s new-agey, which can be a turn-off to some who would prefer to see tangible, practical applications of technology rather than play with a little bit of novelty. But it is a good exercise in how we interact with the things around us, and what the results of our poking, tapping and prodding could create.
And it’s those thoughts that could really get us somewhere.
Follow our coverage of SXSW 2016 here