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.