Sound Design: Agent Walker
Actors: Agents Barrison, Becket, Keech, Kula, Spencer, Walker
DV Cams: Agents Lodwick, Mougis, Shafer, Slocum
Digital Photography: Agents Berrebbi, Nicholson, Rainswept, Todd
For version 2.0, Agent Walker and I wanted to considerably heighten the insanity. We knew that we wanted 2.0 to take place completely outdoors. The final moments of the first show, where the crowd walked together out of the theatre and on to 26th street, were really exciting. By holding the experiment outside of a theatre, we would have the added benefit of mixing with unaware members of the public. Another fun moment from the first show came when we split the audience into two groups based on their date of birth. For 2.0, we took it a step further by creating 4 unique Mp3 tracks that participants would randomly download without realizing they were getting different versions. During the event, the participants would be divided up based on which Mp3 they downloaded and led by costumed characters on four unique adventures.
We needed to find a wide-open space in Manhattan that would be easily accessible. We briefly considered using Madison Square Park, but ultimately decided it was too risky, as the park gates are closed on a seemingly random basis. We settled on the Central Park Sheep Meadow. It is open nearly year-round unless it’s raining. On sunny days, the meadow is usually packed with people picnicking on blankets and tossing Frisbees. It had been over three years since we executed a mission in Central Park, so we were long overdue for a return.
Agent Walker and I took a few trips to the meadow to map out the event. We wrote up a loose script and had a recording session for all of the characters. All of the actors were improv performers at UCB, so they were able improvise off of our ideas and create some really funny dialog. Agent Walker edited it all together, mixing in music and instructions from “Steve”, the event’s omnipotent narrator.
Once the Mp3s were completed, we put a link on the web with the following instructions:
You are invited to participate in our next mission, The Mp3 Experiment 2.0.
Date: Saturday, October 15
Location: Sheap Meadow, Central Park (West side, mid-Park from 66th to 69th Streets: Map)
Time: The event will begin promptly at 3:00 PM. Arrive early. If you are late you will miss it all. It will be over by 4:00 PM.
1. Download the mp3 using the link below.
2. Load it onto your mp3 player (iPod, etc) or burn to a CD for use with a “Discman”.
3. Do not listen to the track.
4. Bring it with you to the event.
5. When you arrive at the event, SIT on the grass, anywhere in the meadow. (Bring a towel or newspaper to sit on.)
6. A man in the center of the meadow will make a siren noise with his megaphone. When this happens turn your player on and prepare to press play.
7. Around a minute later, the man will count down from 5 and then make a second siren noise. When you hear the siren, press play.
8. If available, turn on the “hold” feature on your player to prevent yourself from accidentally pressing an incorrect button during the event.
9. Remain seated until otherwise instructed.
10. Have fun.
We had two major concerns going in to the event: 1) A Central Park Ranger stopping the event and asking to see a permit (which we decided not to apply for). 2) Rain.
It rained for 10 straight days leading up to the event. The clouds finally cleared on Saturday, but we were told by park officials that the ground was too damp to open the meadow. A rain notice was sent out, and we had to move everything to the following day.
Sunday turned out to be a beautiful, partly cloudy, windy day. The characters and cameramen arrived at the meadow a couple of hours early, and we plotted out the movements of the four characters and readied all of the props and special effects. The event was supposed to start right at 3 PM, but I waited about 10 minutes to account for latecomers. If anyone missed the start, they would miss the entire event. Around 3:10, I walked to the center of the meadow and fired off the siren on my megaphone. A minute later, I counted down from 5 and fired the siren again as I rushed to press play on my own player. No one had any idea how many people in the park were participating, myself included. I noticed a few personal friends scattered about in small groups. There were individuals and clumps of folks I didn’t know who clearly looked like they were listening to the Mp3, but there was really no way of knowing. The first 90 seconds of the track was simply ambient music and sounds, so everyone was quiet and still.
Finally the narrator, Steve, introduced himself: “Greetings Class of 2005, and welcome to The Mp3 Experiment.” He then instructed everyone to stand up. I was floored to see around 200 people, perhaps 50 of whom were sitting together in a corner of the park I hadn’t even noticed, stand up in unison. Onlookers in the park began laughing and trying to figure out what was happening.
Arm circles forward
Arm circles backwards
Steve led the group in some calistenics and some dancing in place to Young MC’s “Bust a Move.”
Bust a Move!
After the dancing, Steve announced it was time for everyone to go to The Rock (a huge rock located in the southwest corner of the meadow). He instructed the group to walk to the rock like zombies as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” played in their ears. Families and Frisbee enthusiasts in the park stood in shock as 200 people silently zombie walked past them.
2 participants share one iPod
Once at the rock, Steve instructed the group to do four different things, based on the Mp3 they had unknowingly randomly downloaded. The four groups were asked to “dance like a robot,” “give each other low-fives,” “hug,” and “do jumping jacks,” respectively. Confusion broke out as everyone began doing different activities. Many participants began looking at their Mp3 player, figuring that they had somehow messed up and were listening to the wrong part of the track.
Finally Steve broke the tension by laughing and letting everyone in on the joke. He announced that the group would be divided into four parts and led by a very special team leader. “2001” began playing as Steve introduced the “Four most beloved characters in history: The Astronaut, The Bumblebee, The Dolphin, and The Sea Captain”. Agent Berrebbi fired both a battery operated smoke machine and a fire extinguisher simultaneously from behind the rock, creating a huge mass of fog for the four characters to emerge from. “2001” swelled and the crowd gave their new friends a warm round of applause.
Individuals heard the voice of their team leader in their ears instruct them to gather together. The characters mouthed their dialog along with the Mp3; they too had headphones on. The four groups were led to different parts of the park for their adventures.
The Astronauts took a trip to “the moon” as they walked in zero gravity and then each planted a toothpick-sized American flag in the ground.
The Bumblebees “buzzed” over to the trees and pollinated each tree with a bee-themed bouncy ball (aka “bee balls” aka “honey pellets”).
The Dolphins swam over to the middle of the park, where they helped the Dolphin (whose costume was on loan from the UCB Theatre) and her Trainer recover baby brother dolphin “Lil’ D” from a masked kidnapper.
The Sea Captains paddled in a giant canoe, and then spun around in circles to simulate sea-sickness. They were rewarded with a nice bounty, fish-head eraser tops.
After their excursions, the groups reconvened at the foot of The Rock for a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament. The characters instructed their team on what to throw as the groups competed against each other. Ultimately, bees were the champions.
Dolphins throw rock
Astonauts throw paper
Sea Captains lose with scissors
Bees and Dolphins face off in the finals
Sea Captains cheer (buzz!) for the Bees
Bees are the champions
It was now time for commencement. Steve congratulated the graduating class as the characters passed out beach balls that read “Class of 2005″ to everyone. (We ordered 576 of these clearly outdated beach balls for 17 cents each!) Participants each blew up a beach ball and tossed it towards the sky as The Polyphonic Spree’s “Light and Day” played. The number of balls in the air grew as the song went on creating a maelstrom of blue plastic soaring through the air. Almost on cue, a huge gust of wind arrived at the end of the song, blowing the balls hundreds of feet away from the crowd.
A gust of wind blows the beach balls south
Steve instructed everyone to leave the meadow and meet up at the Bethesda Fountain a short walk away. Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” (though thanks to the rain delay it was Sunday) played as everyone quietly left in different directions leaving everyone else in the park scratching their head at the 25 minutes of insanity they had just witnessed. A few agents stayed behind to clean up the remaining beach balls and plastic bags. I got on the megaphone and announced “Free Beach Balls”. For the rest of the afternoon in the park, you could spot kids of all ages carrying our leftovers.
Agents meet at the fountain afterwards
In the end, we had no trouble from park security. One behind the scenes agent overheard a groundskeeper on his radio: “They’re all these people here throwing beach balls everywhere. I need backup. Wait… it looks like they’re cleaning up after themselves. Nevermind.”
Agent Walker edited five Mp3 samples for your listening pleasure. These edits cut out the songs and focus on the characters.
Steve (Voiced by Agent Todd)
The Astronaut (Voiced by Agent Kula)
The Bumblebee (Voiced by Agent Kula)
The Dolphin (Voiced by Agent Spencer; “Debbie” voiced by Agent Becket)
The Sea Captain (Voiced by Agent Walker)
Agent Walker (Sound Design; Sea Captain)
Creating the four different tracks was a ton of hard work, but once the event got underway, it was all wonderfully worth it.
The first eight minutes were very difficult when I had to stay hidden behind the rock (the rock, the rock). I peeked once during the zombie walk. That was the first time I had any clue how many people were playing. It was a sight to behold. If the entire event had been a synchronized zombie walk just to entertain unsuspecting park goers, it would have been enough.
As the sea captain, I manned an enthusiastic group who were ready for everything we had for them. It seemed like everyone was having serious fun. I can’t stop saying, “YAARRRG.”
I still can’t believe we lost rock, paper, scissors in the first round. If we were playing a proper sea-faring game like buoy, bob, doubloon, I’m sure we would have found ourselves worthy victors.
3.0 shant be far off. YAARRRG!
Agent Kula (The Bumblebee)
These are the recollections of a grown man dressed as a Bumblebee.
I’d been concealing my bright yellow/black self behind the rock since the start of the track, so I had no idea how many people were participating until the smoke plumed and we made our first appearance. I loved how the characters got a cheering/applause break at the climax of the 2001 theme. I can honestly say I’ve never witnessed a crowd so happy to see an astronaut, a bumblebee, a dolphin, and a sea captain.
My Bumblebee group was awesome. Right from the start, it was all smiles, myself included. We had great music scoring all our bee activities – “99 Luftballoons” when we first gathered up and The Flaming Lips’ “Buggin'” while we “pollinated” the trees. I had fun trying to lip-synch to my own Paul Lynde-as-bee voiceovers.
(I also voiced the Astronaut, as kind of a Tommy Lee Jones Southern gentleman. I’m glad Agent Walker was able to incorporate one of my favorite jokes – that is, the inexplicable cursing. “Let’s plant these tiny American flags – here, I’ve got a whole shitload of `em. Look at these things – they’re fucking toothpick- sized!”)
Most of my favorite memories of the event are tied to the music. When the Bumblebees won the Rock Paper Scissors tourney and “We Are the Champions” played during our celebration, I felt a legitimate thrill of victory. The Polyphonic Spree tune was perfect for the beach ball commencement ceremony, and Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” – even on a Sunday – made for a sweet outro, and a nice soundtrack to an impromptu character dance party.
I also loved how people were so loyal to their groups, even after the event had ended. I talked to a bunch of people afterwards, and in each conversation the person would inevitably say something like, “It was great, so much fun. (beat) Oh! I was an Astronaut, but my girlfriend was – can you believe this? – a DOLPHIN!”
Me, I was and always will be a Bumblebee: `Cause bees are the champions.
Agent Barrison (The Astronaut)
Part of my duties for the Mp3 Experiment 2.0 involved me walking my dog to Central Park on the day of the event to make sure the Sheep Meadow was open. After 8 or 9 straight days of rain, we were understandably worried about the condition of the field. Even thought Saturday the 15th was a gorgeous day, by noon the word was that Sheep Meadow would be closed so it would have a day to dry off. I reported to Agent Todd and the tough decision was made to postpone until Sunday the 16th. I was pretty pissed when I heard that Sheep Meadow did open later that afternoon, despite the reports of three separate Park employees that it would not.
I was a bit concerned that attendance would suffer due to the last-minute change of date. As I waited behind the rocks with the rest of the cast, we sneaked peeks at the field in front of us. At 2:45, it didn’t look good. Not too many people out there, or so it seemed. Even by 3:00, it didn’t look like there were that many people out there. I suited up, and started my player like everyone else. From where I was, I could see few people participating, maybe 15 or so. It was great to see people in the middle of Sheep Meadow uninhibitedly bustin’ moves to Young M.C. When the zombie walk began, it was clear to me that this thing was going to work out. I got in line to make my entrance, and Agent Berrebbi hit the fog, which much to my surprise actually worked. When I rounded the rock, I was shocked to see probably 200 people gathered in front, cheering. It was truly amazing to see all those unfamiliar smiles.
I really wanted to be very animated and make my character really big and stylized. My goal was to make it all kind of spacey and cartoony and I think I succeeded. My sore muscles agree with me. Agent Kula’s vocal track really helped with that, and people loved the over-swearing and the Star Trek movie titles thrown in the script. I was strangely focused on my own crew and mission and had no idea where the other groups were or what they were doing. We had to space walk through Agent Kula’s bees on our way to the “moon”. People were strangely excited to receive their little paper American flags, and the rain week made planting the flags very easy.
After the Paper-Rock-Scissors competition, I started throwing deflated beach balls out into the crowd. The balls made their way back to me after being inflated. It felt like gym class, being hit in the head with a barrage of balls. I couldn’t dodge or see to catch anything with that helmet on. After everyone started heading to the fountain, Agents Kula, Becket, Spencer and I had a trippy dance party. I felt like a Blue Man Group, Power Ranger, Teletubby conglomeration. We wanted to find Agent Walker, but the sea was calling to him I suppose.
After the event, we started making our way to the fountain with everyone else. A lot of people came up to me and wanted me to know that they were in my group. I was told I was a “good leader”, which is kind of messed up considering all I did was follow the instructions on the Mp3, just like they did. Anyway, I definitely appreciated their praise and everyone seemed to have an amazing time. I myself was totally energized for the rest of the day, more so than I can remember being since the last time I saw the Polyphonic Spree in concert.
Crew, that was one fucking amazing event. Hope you had one god damn helluva time. Remember to love the shit out of America, and I’ll see you from that cocksucker of a moon up there!
Agent Spencer (The Dolphin)
I was nervous as we approached the “witching hour”. Hiding behind the rocks with the other key players we were 1) Cold (it was windy and cloudy) and 2) Looking over Sheep’s Meadow trying to figure out which people looked like they might be the types to participate in a prank/experiment.
My biggest fear was that we’d approach the crowd and see 6 people standing before us…so when the Mp3 started and I peeked out from behind the rock and saw some people waving, I freaked out with excitement. I got my Dolphin head on and got in place, waiting for the smoke machine.
Damn, when we stepped out from behind that rock and there was such a huge crowd – I couldn’t believe it. It was the coolest scene ever, made even better by 2001 playing. We had planned beforehand how to organize our groups for the group sections, but there were so many people it was hard – we had to get through the crowd, and what was supposed to be a line was more like a creative blob spread out behind me. AWESOME!
Keep in mind, I could barely see through that dolphin head. I was holding on to Agent Becket’s hand (Debbie the Dolphin Trainer) at the beginning, and had no peripheral vision, so I felt like I was stepping on people the whole time.
We swam on over and did our activity, which included rescuing my baby brother Lil’ D. The whole dolphin crew was so awesome; I couldn’t believe how huge the group was. At one point there was a little kid in the middle of the group getting the dolphin toy (which we were handing out to the group) with his mom – I don’t think they were participating in the whole event – so it makes me laugh thinking of them just showing up to this weird swarm of people to collect a tiny dolphin figurine.
We should have won at rock-paper-scissor, but we tried and did our best.
I could not believe what a huge success the day was, and I’m convinced it was only that good because of all the awesome people who turned out. I’ll never forget watching from behind the rock as people on the meadow committed 110% to dancing alone in the middle of Sheep’s Meadow and then walking around like zombies. People were so hardcore; it was amazing.
My only complaint was that no one stuck a cigarette in my “blowhole” when it was requested. Dolphins can’t get lung cancer, people!
Agent Becket (Debbie The Dolphin Trainer)
I couldn’t see most of the beginning of the mission from our hiding place behind The Rock, but I did peek around at one point and spy a few people sprinkled across the park dancing wildly, a sight which filled me with much joy. When we finally stepped out through the fog to greet our teams, I was floored by how big the crowd was and how excited people were to be part of Team Dolphin. I saw one large man pump his hand in the air and cheer upon hearing the good news.
I didn’t realize the dolphin thief was not plugged in to the track, so when I saw him “die” long before the gunshot noises, I panicked that I had started way late and was behind everyone else. But there was nothing to do but plow on and shoot him in my own time. It took away much of the dramatic impact on my end to have him die before I got the chance to kill him, but I hope the message that was sent — those who victimize the dolphin race will be caught and brutally executed — resonated with the crowd in spite of the timing miscue.
Everyone was super excited for each new adventure and by the end we were all totally ready to surrender ourselves to the sheer emotional power of beach balls mixed with the Polyphonic Spree.
Agent Keech (Dolphin Kidnapper)
Here are some interesting things particular to my experience with the Mp3 Experiment. When it started, I was sitting on a blanket with a few friends. I had my headphones on and was listening, but not participating for fear of giving myself away as a plant. Despite a few raised eyebrows towards my blanket, which covered an inflatable dolphin in a laundry hamper, only about four people knew I was “in” on anything. No one, of course, knew what part I would play in the show. It was hard to conceal my excitement for my friends. I wanted to tell them that it was going to be cooler than they ever imagined.
Like most people, I’m sure, the first thing that struck me was everyone standing up at the same time. It was so cool. I remember thinking, “Well this is definitely worth having a smoke machine for.” I gave nods to my blanket companions as they zombie-walked away. The zombie walk seemed like a good barometer of how into the project people were. The stumbling, face-contorted, and moaning zombies were my favorite, but I’m sure the arms out, going towards the rock, but not really acting like a zombie people were into it too. Maybe they just had a further distance to travel and could not be bothered with histrionics.
The smoky reveal of leaders was priceless. The crowd clapped and cheered, building enthusiasm along with the crescendo of the Space Odyssey as if the characters actually were the four most beloved figures of all time. It reminded me of the beginning of a Gwar concert, not that I’ve ever seen them live.
Watching the groups float, buzz, paddle, and swim away was very cool. I was impressed with the synchronicity of the rowing, especially knowing that nobody’s music could be exactly together. What was their rhythm guided by? I always thought that sound dictated rhythm, but it must be something else. Visual stimulus? Peer pressure? In addition, the swimmers all looked as if they were doing similar strokes, except for a few fringe breast-strokers. Not one butterfly or backstroke. I thought for sure someone would crave the attention generated by an unorthodox stroke. Much could be said about the group mind established by the performer/audience members in the Mp3 Experiment. I bet improv nerds would love to talk about it.
Right about when the dolphin group was finished swimming, I hit a button on my Mp3 player accidentally and started the track again. The iPod Shuffle I was using has no screen, so I had to try and fast-forward to about where we were, lest I ruin the experience for 25% of the people participating. Of course, I didn’t even come close and just had to fake the whole thing. I put on my mask at what I thought would be the right time. When the people started circling around me, I pulled out the dolphin from under the blanket. I believe I anticipated the shots a little too early, but I think the “Don’t mess with Debbie!” was pretty much right on time. I had a bunch of little plastic crystal dolphins in my front pocket that some people took, others neglected, I believe because of the lack of time and the fact that the dolphins were pretty close to my junk while I was lying on the ground. The leftover dolphins were donated to my wife’s third-grade students in Harlem. Maybe I.E. can use it as a tax write-off.
I had a great view of the beach ball bouncing. At first I was worried that they might not get blown up quickly enough. After just a little pause, though, the balls were up and flying. Believe it or not, I found the whole thing extremely moving. The entire crowd was moving amorphously with the balls blowing in the air, scattering, then bouncing in the air. The placement of the sun, the color of the green with the blue of the balls; it was the most striking moment of the show for me. Everyone was working so hard and somewhat organically (techno-organically?) to make something so brief and beautiful happen. It genuinely made me feel emotional. Tears welled in my eyes. (Though this isn’t the first time that blue balls have made me cry. If you know what I’m sayin’.)
I lay there on my blanket while the crowd dispersed, trying not to fall out of character, which was easy since I was supposed to be dead. When it looked like the coast was clear, I ran up to the rock and started popping beach balls and cleaning up little plastic bags. It actually only took a few minutes of great teamwork and everything seemed cleaned up. I was glad not to be a pain for the maintenance crew.
Agent Hot Chocolate
One of the things I’ve missed most about living in NYC is participating in IE Missions, no time more so than when I read about how much fun the first MP3 Experiment was last December. So when I started hearing about the second one being in Central Park, I thought that it might be fun to see if I could round up some friends and participate in the mission simultaneously here in Portland where I live now. I knew that it would be messy without the ability to plan and prepare the surprises that Agent Todd and company had in store for the NYC MP3ers, but I thought that any shortcomings our PDX version might have would only add to its charm. That being said, I laid out a few conditions for myself that seemed like fair guidelines I needed to follow in order to participate:
1) MP3 PDX had to take place at the exact same time that the one in New York was going down.
2) No one participating in MP3 PDX could listen to the track beforehand.
3) There needed to be at least one other participant and someone (who was preferably not participating) to document it.
4) Agent Todd couldn’t know about it beforehand.
Much to my dismay though, I was scheduled to work Saturday at noon (PST) and my scheme was derailed before it had even gotten off the ground…or so I thought. When I received the email on Saturday evening that MP3 NYC had been postponed until Sunday due to rain, I figured that fate was smiling on me and I better do this. Rain being the cause of the postponement seemed especially fitting since it rains daily for months at a time up here in Portland and there’s just about no way that this city would close a park due to wetness.
There was very little time to prepare for MP3 PDX. I just moved to Portland about a month ago so the number of people I could call upon was pretty limited. On top of that, I had decided to go ahead with all of this around 11pm and was trying to get people to come out the next morning. But as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said not too long ago, “You don’t go to war with the army you wish for; you go with the one you’ve got.”
My army consisted of my Agent Houlihan, who was gracious enough to document the mission with her DV cam and digital camera and Agent Hernandez, who agreed to come out on such short notice equipped with a discman he had to borrow. I scrambled to download the MP3 file and burn two CDs after waking up around 10am on Sunday morning.
Agent Houlihan suggested that she listen to the file in case there was anything we could do to prepare before heading over to the park. I was resistant at first since no one is supposed to listen to the file before the mission began, but she convinced me that it made sense since she wouldn’t be participating in MP3 PDX as a listener. Before she listened to it on my discman, I made her promise to reveal nothing of what she was to about to hear, specifically not to comment on how our preparations-or lack of-would affect the mission. She then went into a separate room with the door closed to listen so that I wouldn’t be able to gain the least bit of expectations from her reactions listening to the file.
After listening to the MP3 in its entirety, Agent Houlihan changed her outfit and suggested that we take a trip to Fred Meyer (our Target-esque superstore chain in the Northwest) so that she could make a few small purchases in order to help the mission run more smoothly. After this, it was straight to the center lawn of Laurelhurst Park, where we rushed to get set up and our MP3’s playing as close to noon as we could.
Considering how ramshackle our operation was, we hit very few snags along the way. In the end, our MP3 Experiment was not so different from the one in New York. Their rocks were our evergreens; their beach balls were our balloons; their Agent Kula was our Agent Hula…han.
Agent Hernandez and I were listening to the same MP3 track burned twice onto CDs for each of us, so we had the same group file (Bumblebees.) Agent Houlihan served as our Queen Bee (slyly dressed for the occasion in yellow and black) and provided us with B-balls to pollinate the trees with. When it came time for the Rock-Paper-Scissors competition, we had no visible opposition, but still were comforted knowing that there were Astronauts and Dolphins out there somewhere going down at our hands. It seemed like Steve was smiling upon us by putting us in the winning group; it sure would have been a bummer to lose to no one.
All things considered, MP3 PDX felt like a big success. I have a feeling that it won’t be the last satellite mission in the months ahead.
For the reports of many more participants, read the comments section at the bottom of this page. You can see hundreds of more photos (in larger resolution) of this mission at flickr. Check out Agent Nicholson’s Photo Set.
We have also toured The Mp3 Experiment around the world to places like Berlin, Germany and Adelaide, Australia. If you’re part of an organization (festival, university, arts group) that is interested in commissioning an Mp3 Experiment, get in touch via our contact form.