Inspiration in Surprising Places

Yesterday my daughter and I ended up at the Science museum, after seeing the enormous Saturday afternoon lineup at the Natural History Museum. The science museum might be one of the coolest places I have ever been. The exhibits are really interactive, including showcases of objects and information, and then computer/objects to interact with to actually try out the idea displayed in the section. In addition, the design of the building's display made for a fabulous setting for learning; high ceilings, objects on the ceiling, lights, and actual spacecraft were all contributing to the atmosphere.

One of the coolest exhibitions was on the science behind the development of electronic music, starting with Daphne Oram's experiments at the BBC in the 1950s. It was amazing to see her original work with film strips to create a sequencer, the precursor to programs like abelton, reason, cubase, etc.

The best part of the experience for me, and the location of the surprising inspiration, was an installation called "listening post". This was a large, dark room, with around 100 small LED reader boards mounted on the wall along one side. The reader boards displayed text from online chat conversations of over 100,000 people, which had been filtered for certain words. These were then read out one by one in a computerized voice, accompanied by a chilled synth. The series we saw were all "I am" sentences....I am pretty, I am 17, I am sad today.... Listening and watching this, I couldn't help but feel the absurdity of our modern communication. These expressions of a need to connect, sent over a series of 1s and 0s, cold, empty...and utterly meaningless. It was exactly what the absurdist playwrights have been writing about of 50+ years...but somehow our modernity has only escalated this, not solved the problem. We still can't connect, depsite all the devices that are supposed to solve this problem for us.