Better With You - a musical installation


Play is a big part of childhood, and as adults, we set it aside in favor of responsibilities, work and other aspects of life we deem more important.  When we were kids, play was a great icebreaker, and we can probably remember the first friends we made through a shared interest in a game or other activity.  As adults, there isn't always an "in," something that starts a conversation between strangers.  In order to encourage people to interact with each other, my plan is to reintroduce play into the lives of commuters, pedestrians, and curious passerby with my project, Better With You.


Better With You will be a public installation that allows users to control a musical experience.  The installation will consist of a single fixture with touch-sensitive components set in an array similar to a drum set and a handle in the middle that serves as a ground.  When one person touches the ground and then one of the pads, one part of a musical sequence will play.  However, when a second person joins in, they will expand the circuit by touching the person touching the ground, and then touch another one of the pads, creating a new sequence.  New components to the sequence are added for each person who joins the circuit by touching another person who is connected to the ground and then another pad, until all pads are activated.  The social aspect is the main component, the music and technology serving to foster interaction.

why are you making this?

Actually, I answer that whole thing right here.

how are you making this?

You know what's cool?  I get into it right here.

who is this for?

To answer this question, I first have to tell you where I'm putting it.  And I'm putting it in Washington Square Park.

 I'm not putting it in the fountain.

I'm not putting it in the fountain.

This is a public park, drawing in thousands of pedestrians daily (well, in the summer anyway).  From locals to tourists, there is almost no shortage of people for which Better With You will be a novel experience.  The location has the added bonus of being on the main campus of New York University.  With over 50,000 students from 90 countries, the students of NYU provide a large and diverse user base for this installation.

The short answer is, this installation is for anyone passing through Washington Square Park who wants to interact with a piece of musical art.


The biggest obstacle to the success of Better With You will be user acquisition.  At the onset, I may have to contact some media (maybe the student-run NYU newspaper?) to let people know it will be there, and what it's for.  Will the simple presence of the installation be enough to encourage introverted people to open up to strangers, or will be the idea that they might have to talk to a new person scare them off from using it at all?

Probably the best way around this is instructions.  However, Washington Square Park has so many tourists pass through it, that there may be a language barrier.  Have you ever seen a set of IKEA instructions?

 Why are they naked?  WHY ARE THEY NAKED?  ANSWER ME!

Why are they naked?  WHY ARE THEY NAKED?  ANSWER ME!

Without using words, they are able to convey the instructions without limiting those who don't speak the native language.  Swedish, I guess?  I would try putting similar instructions by each of the instruments to show how to play them, with more than one person shown using it, implying that this piece is meant to be shared.

Then, of course, there's the issue of "how do I convince people that it's okay to touch each other in this instance?"  Stand by on that one, I have a bunch of research to do on the topic.


I mean, if I'm writing a paper, I should have some decent sources, right?

Birdwell, April. "Addicted to Phones? Cell Phone Use Becoming a Major Problem for Some, Expert Says." UF News. University of Florida, 18 Jan. 2007. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

Brown, Stuart. Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Penguin Group, 2009. Print.

Byrne, David. How Music Works. San Francisco: McSweeneys, 2013. Print.

Ellis, M. J. "Why People Play." Urbana 51 (2011): 61801.

Fattah, Hassan. "Why Aram Ben Hold Hands." Week In Review. The New York Times, 1 May 2001. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

Keltner, Dacher. "Hands On Research: The Science of Touch." Greater Good. University of California, Berkeley, 1 Oct. 2010. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

Kuss, Daria J., and Mark D. Griffiths. "Online social networking and addiction—a review of the psychological literature." International journal of environmental research and public health 8.9 (2011): 3528-3552.

Laster, Paul. "Rain Room, James Turrell & the Art of Drawing in Crowds." Newsweek. Newsweek, 24 July 2013. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

"NYU Fast Facts." New York University Admissions. New York Univeristy, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.

Rowen, Jamie. "The Right Touch." Greater Good. University of California, Berkeley, 1 Sept. 2004. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.

Sacks, Oliver W. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Rev. and Expanded, 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage, 2008. Print.

Schäfer, Thomas et al. “The Psychological Functions of Music Listening.” Frontiers in Psychology 4 (2013): 511. PMC. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.

Tartakovsky, Margarita. "The Importance of Play for Adults." Psych Central. 18 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

what impact are you hoping to have?

My hope is that Better With You will serve as an example of technology connecting people in the real world while encouraging people to make friends out of strangers.  I want to see Better With You spark real-life interactions in a truly public space.  Whether it gets kids interested in learning music, or leads to two strangers going out for a drink after playing with the instruments, I hope Better With You gets people to break their routines, and get a little play into their lives.