NextFest 07: Electroplankton invades reality, then ‘plays itself’

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File this under W, for “way cooler than Sea-Monkeys.” Japanese electronics scholar Satoko Moroi has created what amounts to a real life version of Electroplankton. After spending hands-on time with her art installation, Sound Flakes, in which colorful light projections bounce off one another to create music, I was instantly reminded of the wonderful memories I created with Toshio Iwai‘s DS sleeper hit. 

Sound Flakes functions in essentially the same way as Electroplankton. You use a motion sensor ladle to swirl colorful protozoa around a pool of water. As the creatures bounce into each other, they emit distinct musical tones based on their color. If you scoop up a single specific animal, it begins to dance, and a sound loop pattern begins. The fun comes from the constant state of flux the music moves through. By turning on the faucets that encircle the pool, you can pour out new light molecules to play with. When you scoop up multiple sound flakes at once, it adds layered textures to your song. The flakes also seem to react to each other in different ways as they collide.

Within a few minutes of play time, I had already created hundreds of moments of instantaneous and fleeting art.

The similarities between the two games are no coincidence. Both Satoko Moroi and Toshio Iwai attended the same program at Tsukuba University’s Institute of Art and Design, which undoubtedly shaped their artistic styles in a similar mold. Satoko and Toshio even presented their respective projects together at the Tokyo Digital Arts Festival in 2005.

Just in case I didn’t do a good job of conveying the sense of wondrous joy tapped into by Sound Flakes, I’ll let Satoko explain it to you in her own words from the pamphlet she gave me:

“In order to enjoy this installation, there are no special rules. However, when attendees look at colorful faucets and ladle, they come to want to twist faucets and scoop something. It is freedom how to enjoy the environment. I try to make a new media for SMILE and communication, as a environment that we can share.

This installation works as a bland-new educational system. However, for adults it is also the proposal of spending the relaxed inefficient time. I hope that many people become a smiling face like the childhood thorough this exhibition. Each my installation art piece is the ‘Play’ itself for children.

The feeling of touching them in the water is like a magic!”

While I understand the sentiment, I don’t know which part of that last sentence to correct first. Even if Satoko doesn’t think we need any special rules to enjoy her exhibit, I have one I’d like to institute: Make sure you don’t lip the children’s stockings. You can play Sound Flakes at Wired’s NextFest in Los Angeles over the rest of this weekend. 


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