The Mp3 Experiment Seven

Created by: Charlie Todd & Tyler Walker
All music by: Tyler Walker
Brainstorm Committee: Jason Eppink, Katie Sokoler, Charlie Todd, Tyler Walker
Shot by: Matt Adams, Dan DeStefano, Keith Haskel, Kristopher Knight, Lisa Nussbaum, Chloe Smolkin
Photography: Brian Fountain, Ilya Chigirev, Chad Nicholson, Thomas Robinson, Ari Scott (full flickr sets for each photographer at the bottom of this post)

For our latest mission, over 3,000 participants downloaded an MP3 file and pressed play simultaneously in retail stores in Midtown Manhattan. The masses converged on Bryant Park where a series of fun activities unfolded, culminating in a huge “mummy dance party.” This was the 7th installment in our Mp3 Experiment series.

Enjoy the video above first, and then go behind the scenes with our photos below. We’d like to thank Bryant Park for generously hosting the second half of the event and all of the stores for putting up with the unauthorized first half.

Here’s a bonus video, containing footage we didn’t have room for in the main video:

pre-mission documentation team meeting
I was thrilled when the good folks that run Bryant Park agreed to host this year’s Mp3 Experiment. It’s an incredibly gorgeous space right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. I figured it would be exciting to have participants converge on the park from all directions, so we had everyone start the experiment in various retail stores surrounding the park.

There are dozens of stores in the area, including several huge national chains. While we were a permitted event in Bryant Park, we obviously did not have permission to stage our event in these stores. I wanted to make the actions in the stores as peaceful and subtle as possible.

It was tough to know how large to make the starting zone. I didn’t want the stores to be too crowded, but I also didn’t want participants to be so spread out that they would not see each other. Of course, I also didn’t know how many people would attend. It seems like we did a pretty good job of filling all of the stores on the map, big and small. A few of the larger stores like The Gap were perhaps a bit excessively crowded.

Participants were told to blend in like normal customers before the experiment started. Unlike the past few years, participants wore no identifying clothing. Ideally you wouldn’t be able to tell participant from non-participant until the experiment began.

Young participants in Staples
Everyone pressed play at exactly 6:00 PM, their watches and phones synchronized to a clock on our site.

“Hold a product in the air, as if you are in awe of it.”
The theme for this year’s experiment was “Steve’s Birthday.” Steve, the normal narrator for our Mp3 Experiments, was replaced by his brother Mark who informed us we would be surprising Steve at a location to be announced later. First we had to do some birthday shopping. Participants were told to do simple things like “pet a product,” “neaten up a display,” and “find a product that’s close to $21 without going over.” Perhaps the most fun was slow dancing with a product.

The reactions from the employees in the stores varied. Many thought it was absolutely hilarious. The people who worked at Champs were especially happy about it.

Champs employees laughing
Some managers didn’t find it quite so funny, but we were only in the stores for about seven minutes; hopefully it didn’t put anyone out too much. After all, we did straighten up lots of displays!

I got a nice email from a Sephora employee:

I work at Sephora on 42nd street near Bryant Park. Saturdays are usually really dead for us. We get a few people but not a lot. At first just a few people came into the store, and then my co-worker said over our walkie system, “All these people all wearing headphones! And they’re just standing around! This is freaking me out!” More and more people came in wearing headphones and soon our little store was full. Many of my co-workers became extremely paranoid. My friend taps one person and goes, “Is this a cult?”

6pm over the walkie: “They all just lifted up a product at the same time!” When everyone started slow dancing with lipsticks and lotions, etc. I lost it laughing, and my co-workers were epically confused. When everyone began to leave, I waved goodbye. One girl said, “Thank you!” I said, “No, thank you!” My manager gave them a round of applause. At the end my co-workers were just trying to make sense of it all, one guy thought it was an epic ploy to shop lift. My friend goes, “Were we just Punk’d?” and I said over the walkies to everyone, “No guys we weren’t Punk’d. We were Improv Everywhere’d.” Needless to say I think you earned a fan or two from my store today.

We all left our retail locations and were told to walk on the sidewalk, blending in with the New Yorkers and Tourists. As a sort of sequel to our Frozen Grand Central mission, all participants froze in place for exactly one minute. While we only had 200 or so in Grand Central, this time there were over 3,000 of us spread out over ten of the busiest city blocks in the world.

Participants then engaged in some silly sidewalk activities.

“March like you’re in a marching band.”

“Form a long line behind a stranger, copying their every move.”

The end of a ridiculously long line behind a mother with a stroller

“See how many strangers you can high five.”

Pedestrians watch and laugh
Participants were then told that Steve was in Bryant Park and that we were all to head there to surprise him for his birthday. We listened to a traffic safety song as we approached the park from all angles, the chorus of which was “Take off your headphones when you cross the street.” It was a little chaotic, despite the safety message. That many people crossing major Manhattan avenues is a little insane. Thankfully everyone stayed safe.

Arriving in the park
It was fun to see the reactions of the folks who just happened to be in Bryant Park when 3,000 headphone wearing individuals suddenly showed up.

A family participating together
Steve, played by Agent Walker, was sitting all alone in the middle of the lawn with a birthday hat and a cupcake. Bryant Park closed the lawn off for us right before the the experiment started.

This was Steve’s first appearance on Earth since The Mp3 Experiment III in 2006!

Participants surround Steve

Preparing for the surprise


Mobbing Steve
For the record, Steve was not supposed to be mobbed at this point. Folks were just supposed to yell surprise and wait for further instructions, but I guess excitement got the best of everyone. How can you resist the urge to run and greet an omnipotent voice?

The first activity in the park was a Racewalk around the gravel track. Of course, we forgot to specify clockwise or counterclockwise, which led to hilarious results. I was walking counterclockwise with a mob of about 500 on the eastern side of the park when all of the sudden another mob of thousands starting walking towards us, screaming, and pointing the other way. So we turned around and screamed and pointed at those behind us. It was awesome.

A couple preparing their letters
The next big activity was to work together to spell words. Participants were instructed to bring two sheets of paper with a single letter (one vowel, one consonant) printed on them. Everyone put them together in what looked like a giant game of scrabble.

An appropriate word for 2010!

Not every word made sense
Next, participants were instructed to partner up and draw portraits of each other. Once completed, everyone got a portrait of themselves, as drawn by a random stranger.

For the next activity, everyone drew one continent on a piece of paper and then passed it to someone else. Everyone continued passing and adding continents to each sheet, collaboratively drawing a map of the world. By the end, everyone had a map with all seven continents drawn by seven random people. Some were great, many were awful!

A finished map

Exchanging gifts
In keeping with the birthday theme, participants were each asked to bring a wrapped gift of something they had in their home, no longer wanted, and thought that someone else might like. Everyone partnered up with a stranger to exchange gifts. A 3,000-person Secret Santa!


For the final activity, participants found a new random partner and were told to use the roll of toilet paper they brought to turn each other into Toilet Paper Mummies.

One of our old redhead agents

3,000 mummies!

After the dance party the Mp3 Experiment came to a close. Everyone was instructed to stick around and help clean up all the toilet paper, and a really great percentage of folks not only cleaned up their own mess, but others as well. Bryant Park also had a crew on hand to help with waste removal, as they were prepared for the toilet paper insanity. In the end, we had the park looking like it did before we got there, but with many awesome new memories created.

Since we had aerial photos of the entire crowd, we were able to get a pretty accurate count on the number of participants. Agent Ann Kirschkins blew up one of Chad Nicholson’s photos and hand counted all of the heads, circling them in red. Her final number was 3,044. She added, “Of course, I defer to anyone who wants to do their own count.”

Mission Accomplished.


Ari Scott’s Photos
Brian Fountain’s Photos
Chad Nicholson’s Photos
Chad’s 2nd Set
Ilya Chigirev’s Photos
Thomas Robinson’s Photos

You can download some of the songs from The Mp3 Experiment on Tyler Walker’s site.

We regularly tour The Mp3 Experiment around the world to places like Berlin, Germany and Adelaide, Australia and to college campuses in the US like UNC and Texas Tech. If you’re part of an organization (festival, university student activities board, arts group) that is interested in commissioning an Mp3 Experiment, get in touch via our contact form.

Check out first hand reports from participants on the Recap Page.


  1. It was also my birthday that day so I was really happy to celebrate it with Steve. And I happen to run into a friend of mine from back home so that made it even more special. I received some super balls and a t-rex beanie baby and gave someone a zippo lighter. Great day all around.

  2. Most fun I’ve had all year, can’t wait for the next one!
    My highlights for the mission~

    Found a M&M stature of liberty for $20.99, thought for sure I had won!

    Slow dancing with giant candy.

    Freezing on the sidewalk in the middle of a sneeze.

    The walk to the park was very very long for us, we ended up jogging and still missed the first event. Still, dancing along the streets with other participants was very fun!

    Getting my map back at the end, with my original Antarctica on it. What are the chances of that?

    Getting a great set of arts and crafts supplies for my gift.

    The “after-party” which consisted of an awesome guy with a massive boom box. And 100 people following him.

    Here’s to next years!

      • Yes.
        Navigation of New York is not my strongest talent.
        We made it to the park in time for the party games though, so it all worked out.

      • We still had a lot of fun though. we met up with a group of people and practically ran to the party mumbling to ourselves about being late for steve’s party.

  3. My 4th, and best one so far.

    The spontaneous Bohemian Rhapsody after the experiment was great, as was following the boom box guy and crashing 2 weddings in Times Square.

    My only concern was the timing of the “freeze” as people were leaving the stores. At H&M there was a down escalator leading to the exit, and people froze and created a bottleneck at the bottom of the escalator. That could’ve been dangerous.

  4. This is AWESOME! Makes me proud of New Yorkers, and love seeing people having such a great time. Ummmm… you did recycle all that toilet paper, right? ;)

  5. A+ Grade for this one. Fantastic choreography! Syncing 3044 people with enough simple activities to keep their interest while tickling their funny bones is quite a feat. Also, let’s hear it for the photogs & editors, who did an absolutely amazing job of capturing the event and conveying its sense of fun.

  6. I think, in the second picture of people drawing each other’s portraits, that the guy in the yellow shirt with tan jacket might be David Pogue, columnist for the NY Times.

  7. This was my first mp3 experiment, and my first ImprovEverywhere event. It was amazing! I’m hooked and can’t wait for future events. <3

  8. Excellent Event! The activities were really clever and seemed really well thought out. It looked like a spectacularly fun evening!

    The only thing I’d change is to charge a little less, perhaps offering a discount for seniors?

  9. Being from outside NYC I am jealous of all your fun. Plan the next one to stretch the fun to all parts of the nation. Keep in mind the time zone difference when planning the start times.

  10. I wish the video was longer, and had all of the activities on it! I love to see these, as I am in Minneapolis and I don’t think Improv Everywhere has ever done anything here : (

  11. From a lad in Australia who loves Improv Everywhere, thank you for the joy you bring. That experiment was hilarious, as were the others. It’s so cool to see so many people together having a swell time. You need to come to Australia ASAP, okay? :D All the best!

  12. This was the first time I was able to make it to an event, and I was super excited! H&M was really crowded, but we gave the staff a round of applause as we left the store, so I think it was alright. I remember being in there 5 minutes before the event started, and I heard security say “I think we’re at capacity!” And that was before more people came streaming in! I liked slow dancing with my dress :-P The block right outside the store was super crowded… the ratio of participants to non-participants was at least 50-1!
    And I got a TI-83 calculator that needed batteries… but it does actually work!
    And I found myself in the video at 2:15!
    Can’t wait for the next one!

  13. Omgosh! That was one of the most funniest, amazing experiences of my life!!! I was in Office Depot and it was packed with around 35 agents on one floor, and like 5 non-participating. Agh! The slow dancing, freezing on sidewalk, surprising, mummies!!!! I loved it all! C:

  14. I’m sad that I’m on the opposite side of the States, but I signed up for mailing lists of other Improv groups! It’s a good way to get out there and meet people. =) You guys are so inspiring!

    If I ever make it to New York, I hope to catch an event. Thanks for everything!

  15. Yes quite a show! Reading over the comments I have to agree that the H & M store was really crowded – and the security guy there seemed to be on the verge of having a fit! He spoke very sternly to one of us too – “put that down!” – but it worked out.

    And mummifying my stranger! I really got her wrapped up good (I wonder if that could be a virtue of the TP they might want to feature?!)

    Anyway – it was a lot of people!!! Anyway to spread us out more next time – so that we don’t overwhelm an H&M sort of place?

  16. How far in advance are these things projected? I wouldn’t mind planning a mini-vacation around one. This is good stuff and very heartwarming and uplifting for everyone!

  17. OMGosh, this is brilliant! Can’t wait for you guys to bring it to Adelaide Australia sometime soon – lots of fun people here who would be keen to join in the fun.

    Keep up the great work and I’ll keep my eyes open of Agents – just never know where they might turn up *GRINS*

  18. Used the energy-efficient lightbulb I got as my present this week…. bathroom light blew. Great and useful gift!

  19. You can see me at 3:14 in the video of the event, I’m the one in the green sweat shirt thingie who’s still standing. I’m really surprised I was in it.

  20. I posted the portrait some handsome young man did of me on the IE page… is there a place where we can collectively post our portraits? I’d LOVE to see the one I did of him… it was surprisingly good… I’m betting he kept his..! Is there anyone who can honestly say they had no desire to keep their own portrait? I’m betting not many.

    • I’m pretty sure the event in Budapest in November of 2008 was inspired by the first five Improv Everywhere Mp3 Experiments that took place between 2004 and 2008.

  21. I like it, as all of your videos. Congratulations!!!

    But at the end you ruined my fun, sorry to say. 3,000 of toillet paper new rolls, wasted in a minute? I think that was very no-green idea.

    If paper comes from trees, to waste more than 200 pounds of paper is not funny.

    I hope that you keep your great job, and that you avoid in the future this kind of ideas.

    Thank you!

  22. I get this is fun but essentially what I see is people getting involved to just be “part of it” but achieving nothing of purpose. Why not weave in something of substance in there – like “On the count of three, everyone start recycling!”

    I agreed with others also – the toilet paper was a huge waste. Again if it is so easy to program 3000 people with headphones, then why not have them do something useful for the world? Or just think local for the city – tell them to bring gloves and then start picking up trash at the same time. There is your challenge – try to stay relevant as something “cool” when you´re asking for more than just a few high-fives.

    • Then why not organize something yourself instead of criticizing the organizers and participants who just wanted to have a bit of fun.

      I’m assuming that every waking moment of your life you are achieving purpose and bettering the world. Otherwise…hmmm…I’d call you a hypocrite.

  23. This was my first mission with IE and I loved it.

    Thanks for the amazing time, I can’t wait to participate in the next thing.

  24. First mp3 experiment. Loved it!!! Came from Philly to do it and recruiting ppl for next year!! Cant wait til January 10th for No Pants subway ride!!

    • The date for the No Pants Subway Ride is announced every December. It is not always January 10. It has only coincidentally been so the last two years. It is definitely not January 10 this year because that is a Monday.

  25. This was my first mp3 experiment and it was a complete blast! Never in my life have I met up with complete strangers and bonded instantly over a event such as the mp3 experiment. When the date for the no pants subway ride is announced, I will be taking the day trip down from Connecticut to attend.

    Btw, i think the employees at Loft were aware of this experiment because it sounded like the store music shut off at 6pm. Was there anyone else in Loft that noticed that?