a system for playing with systems.

A performance for human, video, and surround sound exploring simple feedback delay systems. The role of the video changes throughout the performance, at some points structuring the play and at other points providing visual representations of the processes heard in space.



Program Note

In 1978, Milton Bradley released the electronic memory game Simon during a party at Studio 54. It was hugely success and quickly became an icon in 80s American pop culture. In its most common mode, Simon's four buttons glow in sequence with corresponding tones. The player mimics the sequence, which increases in length with each successful repetition. It is assumed that Simon was inspired by the simple children's game Simon Says, an account supported by Milton Bradley and inventor Ralph Bear. However, as years went by, a different story has emerged.

Simon was a pet robot, an after hours project initiated by a few of the engineers at Marvin Glass and Associates in 1976. The goal was to create a machine that would learn by mimicking patterns, making decisions based on sensors that listened to the environment. The project was surprisingly popular. Within months, Simon was joking with his engineers and picking out colors for prototype designs. We had created a simple learning algorithm that listened and repeated sounds based on different criteria.

By spring, he had developed an impressive pattern vocabulary and his responses seemed to get noticeably more bold. He would beep aggressively and interrupt conversation and once seemed to actively confront a client who was visiting the office. He audibly resisted reprogramming and would sometimes go mute for days and then for no reason, repeat a few broken sequences before returning to his dormant state. It was a busy time and most of us were too busy to look into it. We figured some connections were loose or a chip was failing. But on July 26th he seemed to return to normal, responding cheerfully even and conversing with anyone who walked by.

The next day, Al Keller, a junior designer, shot and killed four employees and injured two others before shooting himself in the head. Simon was found disassembled in Keller’s office, his parts arranged neatly on the desk. In the months leading up the incident, Keller was one of the few designers still working on Simon, often staying late just talking with him. A list of names was found in Keller’s desk drawer. It included the names of all of the dead. The firm, worried about the peculiarity of the situation, didn’t mention Simon in the news story and Keller was described as a paranoid toy designer gone mad.

Lenny kept Simon’s parts. About 6 months later he connected the microcontroller to a small set of speakers. It beeped a short sequence of tones and then repeated “Follow me” in Morse code.  It took a few minutes to figure out what he was asking us to do. We began copying his patterns of sound and light.