Bicycle Built for Two Thousand is as well a musical project as it could be considered a social experiment. The idea was to recreate the classic tune ‘Daisy Bell’ by employing more than 2000 people around the world to sing only one of the song’s syllables, and by putting every track back together. This was achieved by using Amazone’s Mechanical Turk, the micro-employment platform Amazone launched in 2005 to help people get a time-consuming task out of the way by paying other people to do it for them. Although Mturk has not proven to be a massively popular platform, it is still quite active. In ‘Bicycle Built for Two Thousand”s case, 2088 people from 71 countries were each paid 6 cents to record their voice, and the interesting part is that they didn’t have any idea of what they were contributing to.
The result is amusing (and a tad-like awkward), but its concept and the amount of work put into it are pretty amazing:
Go to www.bicyclebuiltfortwothousand.com to hear the whole thing. The home page is very impressive: by hovering over the sound-waves with your mouse, you can select any audio section and individually listen to every sound recorded (the samples are very amusing to listen to).
Aaron is already a well acclaimed “artist, designer, and researcher who focuses on creating and visualizing human systems”. You maybe know his work through Radiohead’s stunning House of Cards video for which he worked as technical director.
This isn’t the first time Aaron uses crowdsourcing for his artistic projects. He has also experimented with Mturk on his Ten Thousand Cent Project – a digital artwork representing a $100 bill made by ten thousand workers who were paid 1 cent each to draw a tiny part of the painting. “The total labor cost to create the bill, the artwork being created, and the reproductions available for purchase (to charity) are all $100″. Truly brilliant. His ‘Sheep Market‘ project goes along the same lines (Aaron employed thousands of people to draw sheep pointing in the same direction).
The art of crowd-sourcing for logistical reason is becoming increasingly popular of late: pharmaceutical companies and research facilities like Innocentive are crowdsourcing, design companies like 99designs.com are crowdsourcing, Wikipedia crowdsources (so does Youtube for that matter), the scientific communities crowdsource, international health organizations like Oxfam crowdsource. Even the music community has started crowdsourcing with fan-management websites like FanCorps, and music collaboration websites like IndabaMusic, WeMix etc. We even know of a musician, Ben Walker (the twitter song guy), who is crowdsourcing the logistical tasks to set up one of his gigs (The Ben’s Big Gig).
But the art of crowdsourcing art is something I had never seen before, and the fact the the participants don’t even have a clue about what they are working on just makes the project seem even bolder. The element of ignorance adds something very spontaneous and life-like to the final result, and what’s more intriguing is that the people know they are part of a community, but they don’t know why, what purpose it serves, nor do they even care – they’re only in it for the money.
This whole idea really reminds me of one of Science Fiction’s greatest classic novels, Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. Foundation tells the story of a group of scientists who seek to preserve knowledge as the civilizations around them begin to regress. To do so they concoct a master plan based on social experimentations that span over a period of a thousand years, and where all human beings play a role following laws of mass action. Much like in Aaron Koblin’s experiments, entire populations in Foundation had no idea of what they were part of.
To some extent this can also be seen as ‘playing god’, where a creator of a defined plan creates and uses his proper subjects to reach a pre-determined goal.
To me this clearly indicates the birth of a new un-chartered art form that has immense potential, and to that I say mruff!