Tag Archives: SXSW Interactive 2016

Deloitte Digital and Robert DeLong at SXSW 2016

Deloitte Digital

Interactive music with Deloitte Digital and performance by Robert DeLong

 

Deloitte ” provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax, and advisory services to many of the world’s most admired brands,” according to their website.

This year they are at SXSW doing slightly-weird, attention-seeking ,things like all the other cool companies here.  In 2014, they were set up just outside the trade show, with 3D printers printing scanned busts of their employees. They also printed tiny little turrets of absurd detail. It was successful at getting attention.

This year, Deloitte has kicked it up a notch. They rented out the Palm Door, a popular venue on dirty 6th, and made it a technology party. They have brought the ARC, an interactive musical experience. Guests walk into the bar, cross the room, and enter a wondrous alcove of musical interaction.

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The official haircut of SXSW

The ARC is a musical composition in perpetual flux at the whim and will of its admiring audience. It’s a mysterious form, a round table embedded with tactile, kinetic, shapes.  It is the main light in this room. There is a sphere that rotates and other objects that light up when they are touched. Interaction with the objects changes the rhythm and sounds that are playing in the room.

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Oddly addictive activity

The audience becomes the composer as they start to figure out which button does what. It becomes collaborative as people ask each other what they have learned so far. They discuss patterns and strategy. They gaze intently at each other, faces lit with the glow of a musical table.

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The lights draw us in like moths

The ARC uses an algorithm to make a song that will evolve and change on its own. The audience also influences this algorithm, as they are joyfully discovering at this particular moment. They look up and smile as they discover the meanings of their movements. They are at the center of this music and they are all too aware of it.

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Collaborative sounds

Deloitte is also bringing musical performance to their venue. One particularly-apt choice was the inclusion of electronic artist, Robert DeLong. His electronic, EDM-influenced, tunes explore themes of humanity and consumerism in a technological age. These upbeat, danceable, tunes  accompanied by lights and visual experiences, are well-suited for this environment.

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Robert DeLong

DeLong’s work uses innovative, interactive, technology, in a concept that could relate to the ARC. He’s known to use Wii remotes that adjust elements of his sound as he performs on stage. It’s electronic tools meeting organic performance.

Deloitte’s event succeeded in highlighting the interaction between humans and the technology they use. People played with cool toys and they made sounds. It was interactive. It was SXSW Interactive.

 

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Containment at SXSW 2016

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This event at SXSW Interactive promotes the CW’s Containment with a dramatic presentation and free alcohol

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Spray paint so you know to be afraid

 

The people in the box are writhing on hospital cots. Bloody handprints are streaked across the glass that separate them from the crowd.  The clock has stopped. People in hazmat suits are roaming around looking for the infected. People in lab coats are working on the cure.  A man stands guard at the ” cordon sanitaire,” the barrier that separates this scene from the rest of the bar.

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This is for real

It’s all a performance. This is an event to promote the CW’s new show Containment. Based on the Belgian series Cordon, Containment is a miniseries event about a virus that enters Atlanta, forcing the area to be put under quarantine by federal authorities. The show premieres on April 19, 2016.

This is the middle of SXSW Interactive, and extravagant promotional events are to be expected here. This particular event is happening on Rainy Street, a yuppie-cool street made of bars that used to be houses. The CW has transformed a part of Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden into this promotional event.

There is a man standing guard at the gate. His face  stays stuck in a glare that remains even when he is posing for pictures with the amused guests. Standing behind the guard, is the man keeping count of capacity. He makes the actual decisions around here.

People in lab coats are roaming around. They offer “the cure” in the form of syringe-shaped shots. They dispense the shots into the mouths of willing participants and declare them cured. Over at the bar/lab there are more “cures.” A fruity-but -mellow mixed punch drink is served by the glass and declared to have curative properties. Reviews say the cure is quite tasty. Screens behind the bar show a PSA from CW’s Containment, and it adds a certain layer of drama to the “lab” area.

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Fake blood, real television

People are gathered around wooden benches appreciating the complimentary “cures” and general ambiance. Every once in a while, people in hazmat suits drag along an “infected” they are pale and weak. They are moved behind a metal fence.  They are placed in containment.

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The lights flicker on and off and flash red

The area of containment has clear walls. They are streaked with the bloody handprints of the people that lie prone in the cots. They moan and roll over. The lights flicker on and off as the recently-infected are contained with the others.

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These people were committed to the part (hopefully)

On the next day of the event, things have progressed further. The people are paler and sicker.  The walls are more streaked with blood. The lights flicker on and off with more frequency.  The infected are weaker, staying on their cots, curled and suffering.

Meanwhile on the benches, people continue to casually sip various cures. Many selfies are taken, the event is a perfect SXSW photo opp. The event hits capacity and those lucky enough to be in the quarantine gaze with a certain superiority at the masses below, outside the ” cordon sanitaire.”

People in lab coats hand out drinks, people behind plastic wall pretend to be gravely ill, as attendees take selfies.  This is South by Southwest Interactive, at its most interactive.

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Free drinks anyone?

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Nolan Bushnell

 

I look for coffee and find Nolan Bushnell, inventor of Atari

 

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Nolan Bushnell and Guy Kawasaki

It’s that time of day. I am at SXSW and I need coffee. Wandering at large in the upper floors of the convention center,  I see a lounge, one of the corporate sponsored hangout rooms where people sit, recharge their phones, send work emails, and nap. These places sometimes have coffee.

I smell coffee and I hear the puffing whir of a cappuccino machine. Good enough, going in.

This is the Comcast Social Media Lounge, brought to you by Comcast. It’s supposed to have tech influencers giving speeches as well. In fact, there’s one here now.

At the door there are some friendly people scanning badges, they apologize but they are out of books. Apparently Nolan Bushnell is here, and everybody wanted to pick up a copy of his latest work. He invented Atari and is regarded as an integral part of the tech revolution by some people.  Right now, he is being interviewed on a small stage.

The interviewer is author and speaker, Guy Kawasaki. Kawasaki is very enthusiastic about this interview. The tone of his questioning and the excitement of his interjections are reminiscent of a young person at a comic con who is meeting their favorite graphic artist.

Bushnell maintains a cool distance. He’s leaned back in his chair, hands clasped, legs crossed at the ankle. He doesn’t need to be here, it’s all a choice. He’s done this sort of thing a million times.

Questioning starts with the ancient history of a time before home computers.  They go back to discuss Bushnell’s association with fellow tech innovator, Steve Jobs. Apparently Bushnell was the only person to actually employ Jobs, a fact he seems to take some pride in. Bushnell speaks highly of the innovative usefulness of Jobs.

They delve into the gossip of their company culture. Kawasaki asks about the Grass Valley culture ” what was it like “were you guys just sitting around in beanbag chairs smoking marijuana all day.” Bushnell responded  “yeah, we had a research facility in Grass Valley and everybody said, oh yeah, Grass Valley, they must be doing a lot of doobies but actually those in my marketing department, almost none of them smoked.” The crowded laughs because the someone said doobie.

Then Kawasaki gets into the history of Atari in particular. Bushnell explains how it all started at an amusement park where he was head of the games department and he ” knew the economics of coin operated games.”

Later, he happened to end up in “the university of Utah video lab, the only place hooking up video screens to big computers .” He describes it as ” magic time magic place, total serendipity” and explains his realization that “if I could make this cheap people would play it.”

He started the company with just “$250 each my partner and I, and we could not raise capital from anybody, so we had to grow the company to about 40 million dollars until anybody would pay attention to us.” He expands that they “never had any money,” so they had to generate their funding “the old fashioned way.”

Kawasaki asks a specific, but common question about Atari, “Can you explain what “Atari” the word means? ”

Bushnell explains that it started with a game called “Go,” “an Asian game played by Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and it’s black and white stones on a 19 by 19 black and white matrix” He describes it as “The best game in the world, it balances your left and your right hemispheres there’s and art to it there’s a logic to it.

In the game, if you are about to engulf your opponent it’s an Atari. And so you say “Atari! It’s like check in chess and I thought, that’s a pretty aggressive name to name a company. So a lot of people thought it was a Japanese company because it was a Japanese game. But it was an American company with a Japanese name.

Bushnell also expands on the relevance of the arcade to innovative tech culture.  He explains that “historically it was the training ground, this bridge between what’s going on in the lab and what’s being done at home, because when things start out they are expensive, they’re not robust, and you can do them in the arcade.”

This perspective paints arcades as the kind of place that could bridge the gaps in available technology to the general public. An arcade was the kind of place where, for a quarter, anybody can reach the cutting edge of gaming tech.  Nolan Bushnell described how “arcades kind of lost their way when home technology seemed in terms of graphics to exceed what was found in arcades.”

Bushnell speaks of a future full of “sensors and processes and very cheap Raspberry Pis running HDMI, I mean magical stuff.” These things could be used to recreate arcades of the future and  restore “the arcade ” as a place of cultural relevancy.

Meanwhile, another event at SXSW also touched on that theme. The Mr. Robot television show chose to set their characters, techno-anarchist revolution at a former arcade. They gathered to learn and expand what was possibly in the (former) cultural hub.  This concept of the arcade as a cultural center could be of further relevance to the future.

Bushnell has other things to say about the future. He is currently discontent with the education system. He says “I feel like our schools are doing a horrible job. We’ve got too much school and not enough education.” His ideal vision with more “project-oriented” work in order to “up the ante for engagement, keeping curiosity and passion alive.”

He speaks critically of the idea that college is the only way. He explains that he thinks “we’ve reinvented indentured servitude, because of student debt. College is way too expensive. I mean the cost of college per hour is horrible.”  Taking it a little further, he references the “old joke ‘if you have a problem with pigeons on campus give them tenure and they’ll quit showing up.'”

His ideal world involves “eliminating noise”. Things like the “liberal arts” can be done more efficiently. He says ” we need to know how to write, we need to know how to fix sentences, that stuff. But that stuff, if mediated by software, you can do it in a day and a half, 15 or 20 minutes.”  From this perspective eliminating noise can lead to a better, more efficient, world.

The cappuccino machine is very loud. Throughout the discussion various people walk up and ask for one. At one point, the interviewer snaps cheerfully” Do you have to make cappuccino? It’s Nolan Bushnell you can always make cappuccino later.”

I am polite enough to wait till the presentation is over. However, it seems the cappuccino machine closed with the conclusion of the presentations. Apparently you can’t make cappuccino later.  But you can go get a picture and an autograph from Nolan Bushnell. Many people do. He is an icon to them.

 

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He wears practical shoes

 

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Macnas: Street Theater at SXSW 2016

Macnas: Saturday March 12

Macnas from Ireland decorates SXSW 2016

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There is a giant sculpture of a rhinoceros in the middle of the street. It’s ominous. The early evening light has cast a particularly eerie shade over everything. There are several other giant sculptures rolling up the street.

People are dancing at the foot of the statue. They are wearing colorful costumes. The audience is joining in.  What is happening here? It’s “Macnas,” according to one of the performers. The word translates roughly to the frolicking of the spring lambs.

It’s an appropriate term. There is a spirit of whimsy here. This performance by the Macnas theater troupe is supported by IDA Ireland and Culture Ireland.

Ireland’s had a pretty strong showing at SXSW for the last couple of years.  At SXSW, representatives from countries  rent out a  venue or organize a series of events to promote the culture and businesses of that country. Representation ranges from a booth at the Trade Show, to a series of concerts, to elaborately-decorated venues with free sushi and talking robots. These countries include:

Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Spain, and the UK.

Ireland frequently is categorized with the rest of the UK’s SXSW events. For the last couple years, the UK reps have rented out the same bar just off 6th street. They have several days of music programming there. Usually there is a day that particularly promotes Irish music. So there is some differentiation.

Also, St. Patrick’s day happens to occur during SXSW. It’s pretty crazy then. Weird things happen. Probably super offensive. If any Irish people are reading this. Sorry?

The performance continues. The crowd is getting denser. Other costumed characters are getting closer. Small children are gazing in wonder and inebriated adults are being forced to doubt their sense of reality. This is a fascinating spectacle. Which has to count as some form of success.

There are other places to be on Red River Street. The performance goes on, nevertheless. The rhino statue has eyes that follow you, wherever you may go. It’s Macnas.

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Klaatu barada nikto

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