The Mp3 Experiment Nine

Created by: Charlie Todd & Tyler Walker
All music by: Tyler Walker
Video produced by: Matt Adams and Andrew Flynn Soltys
Shot by: Brian Gutierrez Aramay, Nick Candreva, Gabe Chai, Keith Haskel, Kris Knight, Eric Laplante, Adam Nawrot, Ryan Nethery, David Quinones, Corey Richardson, Shane Sheehy, Ilya Smelansky, Andrew Flynn Soltys, Cameron Sun, Spencer Thielmann, Kenny Wu, Ron Yoshida
Photography: Brian Fountain, Arin Sang-urai, Ari Scott
Production Assistants: Alex Adan, Alan Aisenberg, Andy Bond, Denis Cardineau, Stephanie Motta
Production equipment & assistance generously donated by Hello World

For our latest mission, over 4,000 people participated in an epic water gun battle as part of our ninth annual Mp3 Experiment event. Participants downloaded an MP3 file and pressed play simultaneously on Governors Island in New York City. The MP3 file contained a series of ridiculous Olympic-themed instructions from narrator “Steve The Omnipotent Voice from Above” that culminated in a massive water gun fight.

Enjoy the video above first, and then go behind the scenes with our photos and additional videos below. We’d like to thank the River to River Festival for hosting the event and SkyCamUsa for helping us get aerial footage with their hexacopter drone.

pre-mission documentation team meeting
This year’s experiment took place in the same location as The Mp3 Experiment 5 back in 2008. Participants were divided up into two groups ahead of time based on birthday. One group was told to wear a solid black or white shirt and the other was told to wear a solid colorful shirt. Everyone was also asked to bring a bag with a few props, including a loaded water gun.

Once everyone pressed play, narrator Steve informed participants that today was the opening day of the Governors Island Olympic Games and that they would be competing as athletes from two countries, the Monochrome Nation (black and white shirts) and the Nation of Color (colorful shirts.) To prepare for the games, the first activity called for everyone to drop to the ground simultaneously.

Lying down on the ferry
It’s tough to get thousands of people onto an island, and we had some hiccups with both the Manhattan and Brooklyn ferries. Our crowds were just too big, and folks who didn’t arrive early enough unfortunately weren’t able to get to the island in time. This thankfully didn’t stop anyone from having fun. One group was actually ON the ferry when they pressed play. They freaked out the few non-participants on the boat when they all suddenly dropped to the floor. They made it onto the island about ten minutes into the experiment.

The Battery Park group
A group of about 300 people were so far back in the ferry line that they decided to abandon hope of making it to Governors Island and participate in Battery Park instead. A couple of smart folks starting walking up and down the line telling everyone to head over there. Battery Park is actually a location I’ve thought about staging the Mp3 Experiment in the past couple of years, but the space is not quite big enough for our ever-increasing crowds. It turned out to be perfect for this rogue group of 300!

The Brooklyn group
There was another rogue group. About 30 folks missed the last Brooklyn ferry and held their own event in Brooklyn Bridge park. So there were three simultaneous Mp3 Experiments happening in New York (four if you count the one happening on the ferry for the first 10 minutes!)

Steve instructed the “Olympic athletes” to give high fives to any “fans” (people not wearing headphones.) The folks on the island not participating probably got about 100 high fives each. The weather forecast called for a good chance of storms and the humidity was pretty oppressive. Unfortunately, these conditions caused the island to be less crowded with non-participants than it would have on a nice day. There were still many more folks on the island than our 2008 experiment which took place during a very dreary, rainy day. We were lucky enough to almost entirely miss the rain this year. Almost.

In the photo below you’ll notice that the very same mom and son who gave high fives in the photo above decided to join the group. Here they are participating in the stretching activity despite not wearing headphones. I guess if you’re surrounded by hundreds of people doing the same thing, you might as well join ’em.

The subtitle for this year’s Mp3 Experiment was “Insurrection.” During the stretching routine, participants were told by a mysterious voice that they were among a group of 1 in 300 people who downloaded a special mp3 file and that they were secret agents recruited to lead an insurrection against their country. In fact there was no special mp3; everyone was made to think they were special. This added some extra excitement to the experience for everyone as they looked around and wondered who else might have received the “special” instructions.

Athletes competing in the Synchronized Dance qualifying game
Participants were asked to bring a white sheet with them in their bag. The first sheet activity was the “Ghost Walk” where everyone had to walk in a straight line with a sheet over their head, trying not to bump into anyone else.

Steve announced that all the athletes had qualified for the main event, and he asked everyone to don their sheets like capes and make their way to the Parade Ground, the huge field in the middle of the island. When everyone came together in the middle, the massive size of the crowd first became clear.

These people found themselves in the middle of the mob

A Park Ranger tries to explain what is going on
Once everyone arrived to the field, it was time for the “Opening Ceremonies.” The first ceremony was the “soft object toss.” Participants worked in teams of four to toss the soft objects they brought as high as possible using a sheet as a trampoline.

The next ceremony involved everyone putting the sheets above their heads and attempting to block out the sky, creating a big canopy. Around the time that this was happening a rain shower appeared out of nowhere. Steve made a joke about the sheets right around this time saying that although it certainly is not raining now, “This would make a great umbrella if it was.” Soon after the sheets were taken down, the rain stopped. We got incredibly lucky that the only reference to rain in the script happened at the exact moment it rained. Strange coincidence! Praise Steve!

Here’s a bonus video of these two sheet activities that didn’t make it into the main video:

It was time for the finale. Monochrome Nation was asked to head to the south side of the field, and the Nation of Color was asked to head to the north side of the field. In the photo above, you can make out the hexacopter drone filming the event from the sky. Here’s a close up:

Thanks again to SkyCamUsa for being a part of our video team.

People watching the from the sidelines
Participants were instructed to put on their shower caps, take out their water guns, and hold them above their heads.

Monochrome Nation marches into place

The Nation of Color marches into place

The massive crowd, just before the battle

Drone’s view
Right before the battle was to begin, the mysterious voice (who referred to himself only as “Walker”) returned and instructed the “special” agents (everyone) that they were to turn on their countrymen and fire at them rather than the opposing nation. While this was supposed to happen a bit later when Steve started the battle, a few people didn’t listen carefully and started betraying their country immediately. Once one person starts a water gun fight early, everyone starts a water gun fight early. Chaos ensued.

Here’s a short clip of the Battery Park group’s water gun finale:

When the battle ended, Steve let everyone in on the joke, informing them that they were all traitors and that no one was special. To show unity, everyone was asked to mix together and wave their sheets in the air for the Closing Ceremonies.

Thanks to everyone who came out!

Mission Accomplished.


Watch the videos of our previous 8 Mp3 Experiment projects.

Ari Scott’s photos
Arin Sang-urai’s photos
Brian Fountain’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 in the comments section on this page.