The Mp3 Experiment 5

Original Music and Sound Design: Agent Walker
Digital Video: Agents Adams, Shafer, TV Boy
Digital Photography: Agents Nicholson, Fountain, Sokoler
Produced by: Agent Biederman
edited by: Matt Adams

For our fifth annual Mp3 Experiment, over 1,000 people downloaded the same mp3, pressed play at the same time, and had a blast together on a misty, gray day on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor. This year we partnered with Yahoo! to transform The Mp3 Experiment into a full-on North American tour; after the New York mission, we made stops in Toronto, San Francisco, and Chicago. You can see a highlight video of the entire tour here.

Below is the mission report for the New York event. Enjoy!

If you’ve never heard of The Mp3 Experiment, check out our coverage of the past four years:


This year’s location was beautiful Governor’s Island. The island sits in New York Harbor just a seven-minute ferry ride away from Manhattan. The island has a beautiful fort and castle, and it played a role in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the Civil War. It was an Army post from 1783 until 1966 when it was transferred to the Coast Guard. In 2003, the Cost Guard sold it to the city for a symbolic $1, and it has been open to the public on summer weekends since then. While visiting earlier this summer, I came across this sign:

It was a perfect fit!

To participate in this year’s experiment, agents were given these instructions. Everyone synchronized their watch to the clock on the instruction page, downloaded the mp3, wore a red, blue, yellow, or green shirt, and then took the ferry to the island. At exactly 3:15 PM, everyone pressed play from wherever they happened to be on the island.

Canadian Geese flee the island as our participants arrive
It was a gray day in New York with a forecast for rain, and it was misting at the start of the experiment; fortunately everyone was instructed to bring an umbrella anyway. About 10 minutes into the mp3, the rain stopped and it remained dry for the rest of the event.

It was fun watching the deserted island (there weren’t too many tourists visiting on such an overcast day) fill up with primary colors as our participants started arriving, many getting there a few hours ahead of time to explore the island. We had a wonderfully diverse group of people show up this year. All ages, races, and backgrounds were present. We had newborns, children, high school kids, college students, 20/30somethings, parents, and grandparents, all playing together.

Participants sit in front of Fort Jay

Participants sit on top of one of the fort’s cannons
By the time 3:15 arrived, there were 1,400 people on the island, according to the Governor’s Island staff count. We figure at least 1,000 were listening to the mp3. People spread out all over the island, some in very isolated places with just a few other participants. A big crowd chose to start in the middle of Fort Jay, which confused the State Park Rangers who work there. I don’t think they had been told about the experiment.

Two rangers smile as dozens of people give them high fives
One of the first instructions from Steve, the omnipotent voice narrating the mp3, was for participants to high five someone not wearing headphones. Due to the weather, there were very few non-participants on the island, but it was hilarious to see them bombarded with high five requests.

Agent Bozarth follows Steve’s instructions to “hug an inanimate object.”
To make sure everyone was physically and mentally alert, Steve had participants go through a series of tests that were suspiciously similar to a drunk driving exam. Everyone had to put their hands out to their side, touch their nose, and walk in a straight line.

A young agent touches his nose
I believe the kid above is the youngest to ever fully participate in an Mp3 Experiment. We’ve seen lots of babies over the years, some even wearing headphones, but this kid was an all-out participant.

Steve announced that later in the day there would be a giant “epic battle” taking place on the island (a nod to its history!) and that participants would need to get themselves battle ready by playing thumb war with someone wearing a different color shirt.

An island employee looks on suspiciously as hundreds around him play thumb war
After the thumb war, it was time to meet up with everyone else on the island. Participants were instructed to walk towards the huge parade ground field in the island’s center. In order to be discreet, everyone disguised themselves with a “finger mustache.”

Participants exiting Fort Jay

Participants were instructed to open and spin their umbrellas as they approached the big field

Inexplicably, a bear participated this year! He had an iPod and everything.
Steve had everyone put their umbrellas away and play a few games.

Two girls tethered to one iPod run around during “attacker/defender”
Participants were then told to group themselves into four 4-person blocks of the same color to create pieces for a big game of “Human Tetris.” The instructions proved to be very difficult to follow, but we still ended up with a big mass of people pressed together in a color-coordinated fashion.

A couple not participating looks on at our puzzle of color
The next game was “Human Twister.” Steve called out colors and body parts, and everyone played twister by touching a foot, head, shoulder, or elbow of someone wearing the appropriate color.

“Right hand, red head!”
Participants then learned a battle march song with half of the colors playing thigh drums and the other half whistling the flute part. Governor’s Island was once home to the Army’s School of Music, so it seemed appropriate.

It was finally time for the epic battle, and Steve instructed those wearing red and yellow to go the north side of the field while those wearing blue and green headed south.

The red/yellow team heads north
Steve then had everyone take out the balloon they should have brought and inflate it. The balloon was to serve as our weapon of for the battle.

While performing the aforementioned battle march, participants from both sides marched along the field and came to a stop 20-feet apart. It looked and felt like a Revolutionary War face-off, painted with a rainbow of colors.

Father and son bring up the rear

Steve didn’t instruct participants to hold their balloons over their heads, but it seemed like the right thing to do
Tension mounted as the lines drew close. You could hear the roar of both armies over the triumphant music playing in your ears. Steve gave the ground rules for the battle– no trampling, no hitting below the waist, and reminded everyone that, “The number one rule in war is safety.” Finally, Steve gave us a 1,2,3, Charge! and the battle began.

Steve encouraged participants to enact their own elaborate death when they felt like they had been sufficiently wounded by opponents’ balloons.

Agent TomTom and his father Agent Massari, fatally wounded

The bear down for the count!
Steve told all remaining soldiers to die as there are no winners in war. Participants all laid down on the slightly damp lawn as Steve’s half-brother Mark led everyone in a final ridiculous meditation exercise.

Without instruction, some participants started throwing their balloons in the air. It was infectious, and pretty soon everyone was doing it.

The experiment was over. Everyone did their part in cleaning up the balloon waste and hung out to talk with all their new friends. The party continued on the ferry ride home. The first ferry was particularly crowded, and resulted in quite a few chants and sing-a-longs.

Mission Accomplished.

Thanks again to Yahoo! for embracing our mission and making this tour possible. Be sure to see our reports on the other three cities:

San Francisco


Agent Nicholson’s highlight photos
Agent Nicholson’s full set
Agent Sokler’s set
Agent Fountain’s highlight set
Agent Fountain’s full set

You can download some of the songs from The Mp3 Experiment on Agent Walker’s MySpace page.

Check out first hand reports from participants and links to their own flickr sets and blog posts on Recap Page. Add your own report if you were there.

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.


  1. It was an awesome time. The video was great but doesn’t even capture half the fun we had that day. Yet another great IE event. Looking forward to the next!

    -Agent Pete
    -Tall guy in yellow with the extra-cool battle-balloons

  2. The video is a great summary of the major events of the day, but my daughters and I got a kcik out of human Tetris and human Twister. WOuld have loved to see the video of those.

  3. The video is great! The epic battle is amazing. You can even see me in the thumb wrestling bit (I’m the girl in the red shirt with pink hair).

    I can’t wait to do another improv everywhere event!

  4. Another great time. It was a bit hard to find a stranger/non-participant though.

    Thanks again for the great time IE!

    P.S.:When is the female only mission finally going to come out of hiding?

  5. How I wish I could have participated. ‘Tis a sad thing I had to move out of New York just before this began. Looks like a ton of fun. Good job.

  6. This made my business trip from Seattle completely worth it! It was my first visit ever to NYC and I was incredibly excited to discover I’d be in town during this event. You can bet I’m going to try to figure out a way to get to another one of these.

    I was also thrilled to meet so many cool people. I got to know one girl in particular pretty well. Even though she was a soldier in the evil Blue/Green alliance, she eventually redeemed herself by joining the Starboard side…

    Thanks IE for the fantastic memories!

  7. I loved this so much! It was so fun, even if it was all drizzly.
    Heh, I’m in the first picture of the death pictures. Upper right hand corner, clinging to my dead boyfriend. I commited lovers suicide. ;P

    Also, that small blonde boy is absolutely adorable!

  8. I had an amazing time! I came all the way from New Hampshire with a few friends from the Boston Society of Spontaneity just to participate… we had done our own MP3 Experiment just a week before!

  9. I’d just moved to the city when this was held, and participating in my first IE mission was a great way to start my Big City Adventure! A friend from upstate NY took the train down to join in, and the day was just SO silly, amazing and fun. Chanting for the bear … RED AND YEL-LOW! … getting drizzled on … winning 2/3 thumb wars! … it was a great time. Thanks for organizing this!

  10. well! i wuz dere! i wuz da girl in da redskinz shirt with the big brown hair. yeah. RED TEAM MAN! xDDD it wuz pretty cool. but @ the beginning of the balloon battle i got stuck n CCIDENTALLY RESTARTED THE WHOLE THING! but i asked this nice guy 2 tell me @ wat timin we wer @. thankgod! but i didnt get hit, n i autmoatically died. -.- but i wud love 2 do it again. last year i heard they did HUMAN TETRIS. lolz my mom wud hav loved dat cuz she loves playin tetris on her blackberry. n claire waz da girl in da masquerade mask. she wuz a pretty cool person. n funny n akward liek dat bear. xD i started randomly pointin 2 werevr wen dey said 2 point were u live n were all dose of islandz were. liek literally, you cud probably SWIM 2 govener’s island! iz not evn dat FAR. probably not evn a mile! -.- but it wuz overall cool. :]

  11. I’m very happy that I was there. Maybe one of the few Dutch people present. I loved it and it made my stay in New York complete. Thanks!

  12. This was such a great time! The spirit was infectious, and even afterward there was chanting, cheering and singing on the way back. I wish there were more pictures, it was fantastic.

  13. Wait a minute, at around 1:30 everyone that had an MP3 player was wearing headphones so if they all high 5’d each other that would have been incorrect.

    Just an observance


    PS- Did anyone else see kevin from collegehumor in that video? I swear to god I did.