It’s that time of season where we like to feature each of our Special Projects so that you, the Make Music New York community, can have a better understanding of the many great ways to enjoy our music celebrations on Thursday, June 21st (mark your calendar!). Look for regular blog posts outlining events across neighborhoods and boroughs, featuring amazing and engaging musicians from the New York area.
This week, I got to chat with Charlie Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere – a comedic performance art group that carries out “missions” in public places. Last year, he worked with Make Music New York on Mp3 Experiment 14 – he’ll be back this year with another special project to check out!
Spencer Kulow: Hi Charlie! We’re excited to have Improv Everywhere return to present Mp3 Experiment Number 15 for Make Music New York this June 21st. Would you mind giving us a bit of the history behind the Mp3 Experiments, and maybe speak to the inspiration behind the concept?
Charlie Todd: I created The Mp3 Experiment in 2004, which was when the iPod was really becoming pervasive in New York City. I remember sitting on the subway and noticing that almost everyone on the car had white earbuds. That made me think, wouldn’t it be cool if everyone was listening to the same music? That if we all had a shared soundtrack in our ears? That led me to develop the first Mp3 Experiment in December of 2004 with composer Tyler Walker.We took that idea of a shared soundtrack and added instructions from a narrator, making it an interactive experience.
That first year some people participated by burning the mp3 file to a Discman. We’ve come along way from those early days to the smartphone app we use now. The first couple of experiments were small, with 100-200 people involved, but we’ve grown over the years and now attract thousands of people. It makes me so happy to watch a crowd of 3,000 people participating in the same fun, ridiculous event.
SK: How has Make Music New York fit into the history of the Mp3 Experiments?
CT: Over the past fifteen years we’ve had partnerships with lots of great cultural institutions like River to River, the Brooklyn Beat Festival, and Governors Island. We like to partner with festivals to attract a new audience and bring the event to new places. Last year was our first partnership with MMNY, and we’re thrilled to be working with them again this year.
Traditionally the Mp3 Experiment has been a mostly silent event. It’s a massive crowd of people blending in to the real world, surprising and delighting others as they carry out secret instructions from their headphones. Working with Make Music New York has inspired us to make a bit more noise. Last year in Battery Park we distributed 3,000 “Boomwhackers” to our participants and had them play a song together. This year we have another surprise musical prop that we’ll be distributing.
SK: Make Music New York is all about uniting New Yorkers in our shared social spaces through the power of music, and the Harbor View Lawn of the Brooklyn Bridge Park is a beautiful example of a shared social space. How is the program integrated into the park itself?
CT: We are really excited to be working with Brooklyn Bridge Park this year, thanks to MMNY. It’s an amazing space, and we’ve designed the event specifically with it in mind. We’ll be using the entirety of Pier 1, with our participants spread out all over it, blending in with everyone else at first, and then congregating together for a big musical celebration. The park has such incredible views. It’s going to be an awesome backdrop for our fun.
SK: What are you most looking forward to in this incarnation of the Mp3 Experiments?
CT: It’s sort of silly that an event that has been going on for 15 years is still called an “experiment”, but we try new things each year. That’s always what excites me the most when I’m writing the script. I love taking a big swing and crafting something ambitious for our crowd to carry out. It doesn’t always work out like we expect, but it’s always fun. We’ve learned so much over the years about crowds and how they work together. We’ll be including some classic bits that are guaranteed to bring lots of smiles, and we’re pushing boundaries and trying new things as well.
SK: And, one final question: how can Make Music New York fans enjoy the program and what should they expect?
CT: Head to https://improveverywhere.com for the full participation details. The event is free and open to people of all ages. You’ll need to download our app to your phone to get the audio file and synchronize playback, and there will be instructions on what to wear and what to bring (a few simple household props.) The full details won’t be posted until the week of the event. If you join our email list, you’ll be the first to know when the details are out.