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In the framework of exactly one year the team of What If Collective went all the day from dreaming big to actually realizing its dream. The team which assembled for a design competition one year ago did not win at the hackathon then but succeeded in accomplishing something much bigger. It made a prototype of a creative art installation which won the first prize of the new awards series – STRP Award for Creative Technology (ACT), consisting of 30,000 euro. This award brought the team the opportunity to make its dream come true.

What is MGNT installation?

The MGNT installation is a magnet installation where magnetism is what the installation is based on, Toon Rooijmans, the architect in What If Collective, explained.

Rooijmans compares the installation to a gigantic magnetic loop where people themselves are the magnets. “The installation records the audio of the people when they step within, then this audio is sampled and played as some kind of electronic sounds back into space. The sounds that are recorded are the people’s voices – the way people interact with the installation, and besides the audio there is also a moving interaction since we have infrared sensors on the top of the installation”, he elaborated.

The interaction happens when people walk inside the magnetic loop – the closer they get to the screens, the bigger effect they have on the installation. Through this interaction the audio is recorded and transformed into sounds. Can these sounds be called music? “Yes, a very abstract music, a rhythmic soundscape just as what Dick Raaymakers once did”, Rooijmans enthused.

MGNT installation. Photo by What If Collective.

Story behind

“The MGNT installation celebrates the birth of electronic music and the heritage of Dick Raaymakers – an artist and a scientist who worked in the Philips Natlab”, Rooijmans explained. Dick Raaymakers, a pioneer in the field of electronic music, used to produce compositions at the Philips laboratories in the late 50s and early 60s. “He used all kinds of synthesizers and he experimented with sound. He made his compositions using magnetic tape. He would record the signal, then cut and paste it on a cassette, and make a whole composition of various sounds. And this was the birth of electronic music!”, Rooijmans relates.

Raaymakers’ compositions were the inspiration behind the MGNT installation. Last year the four members of the team were attending a 48-hour hackathon at the very same Natlab where Dick Raaymakers had once made his first electronic compositions. During those hours spent at “the birthplace”of electronic music, the team came up with the idea: “What if the walls could speak? What if we could do it bigger? What if this whole place could speak? What if we let people know what exactly happened in this special place?”, Rooijmans recollects. “Then we all thought that this was also the perfect name for our team – What If Collective.”

Dream comes true

During the 48 hours at the hackathon the team made a prototype of the installation – a small board with all kinds of haptic sensors. “We wanted to make a spatial installation that is tangible and has a physical interaction with people.” Despite the team’s inspiration and idea, though, they did not win.

“I immediately called the others, I was screaming. You cannot imagine the joy I had!”

However, What If Collective did not give up since they all saw a great potential in their idea. Thus, several months later the team applied for the STRP ACT Award and they eventually won the first prize. “I was incredibly euphoric! I immediately called the others, I was screaming. You cannot imagine the joy I had”, Rooijmans recalled with a smile.

MGNT installation after the visual coding has been done and the sound design has been finalized. Photo by What If Collective.

“I am very grateful that this installation came into being especially because it was a dream that had come true for all of us – we all had this fantasy of “what if the walls could speak”. And we did it! We had the guts to do it!”.

What If Collective built the whole installation for six weeks so that it could be ready for the STRP Biënnale Festival 2017. At a question why the visitors of the festival should see their installation, Rooijmans was explicit: “First, people should visit the festival because it is an amazing experience for all tech lovers! Second, you can’t miss the installation – it is gigantic”, he laughed. “It is really a spectacle and also a great sensory experience.”

Next dream

“This is the first step for this installation”, Rooijmans concluded. “This installation can still evolve. Everybody is very enthusiastic and curious about it so I hope people will enjoy it.”

And the team has not stopped dreaming. “What would be great is having the installation exhibited in other countries. Dream big!”, Rooijmans smiled.

Feature photo: MGNT installation. Photo by What If Collective.

Video: Prototype 2 of the installation. Video by What If Collective.