Summary of Theremin Inspector at EYEBEAM

This is currently a draft awaiting approval.

You can catch a Reality Inspectors exhibit at EYEBEAM in Manhattan right now.  We’re proud of the installation and we had an amazing time at the opening, June 3, 2011.   The best part, for me (Sean) was seeing the kids playing with the Theremin Inspector and getting really excited about the theremin and the mixed reality world they saw themselves in. The best part, for me (Alex) was being able to look in the mirror and see electromagnetic field lines extend from the antennae of a theremin and seek ground through my body.

Big Thanks

There’s a lot of thank you’s that we owe to people and we probably won’t catch them all.  But we want to start with the AMAZING teams of Science Gallery and EYEBEAM.  What an honor to work with these people doing professional work at the intersection of science and art — and doing a damn fine job of it.  We also need to thank, especially, Amber Tisue who joined the Reality Inspectors team to make a soundscape for the Theremin Inspector;  and HATCH, the network that introduce Alex and myself and connected us to Amber.  Big thanks to Yarrow Kraner, whose visionary concepts for SuperDudes pioneered a the online social networking revolution and leds millions of people — including those who participated in our workshop — to see the super heroes within themselves. Thank you to the OpenFrameworks community for making tools that can help materialize these ideas, and to OpenNI for providing libraries for the Kinect.  And a final shout out to our friend and mentor, Scott Shepard, who answers the phone when we call trying to figure out how to quickly and cheaply denature a mirror surface, or any other crazy things you have to accomplish to be a Reality Inspector.

Also, thanks to the media outlets that gave the exhibit some coverage (check us out on NY1) and to the World Science Festival for hosting BIORHYTHM as a part of their extraordinary event.

The Theremin Inspector

The goal of the Theremin Inspector is to teach people how a theremin works.  It’s pretty spectacular to see people light up when they realize their body has become a part of a field of electromagnetic energy.  They smile, they dance, they tell their friends, and most important for our goals, they ask questions.  This project *appears* to have made a significant advancement in getting people of all ages to feel curious about electromagnetic energy.  We call that a huge win.  And it reveals what might be our most important lesson learned:  we need to have a secondary, supportive setup that allows people to learn more about the science before and after the immersive, mixed reality environment.

You can see in the pictures that the setup relies on a pretty nifty technique we developed to be able to project on a real mirror, and compensate for the user’s perspective.  We did this to increase the extent to which the user can appreciate that our artistic representations of electromagnetic energy do, in fact, represent something that’s really happening.  (We’re big on the idea that science education should be a sensory experience.)

The way it worked, more or less, is that you step into the installation, let the camera track you by holding a pose for a few seconds, then start playing/inspecting the theremin.  You get a sweet soundscape, thanks to Amber, and you get amazing visualizations of electromagnetic energy superimposed in the space between you and the theremin, thanks to Alex’s OpenFrameworks wizardry.


We were honored to be there as a part of the World Science Festival.   Our hosts, EYBEAM Art+Technology Center are amazing.  We can’t thank everybody, but we definitely want to highlight the incredible help we got from Stephanie, Marco and Jamie  –  also special thanks to Amanda, the ED.  If you don’t know EYEBEAM, get to know them.  They’re doing incredible work fostering and advancing the interactive art+science space by giving that community a hub and a space in Manhattan.

The Inspector is one of about a dozen exhibits in the BIORHTYHM traveling exhibit put together by Science Gallery.  Again, too many people to thank, but special thanks to Rob, Lea, Alison, Lynn, Derek and a special thanks to Michael John, the ED of the gallery.  You guys rock.

Our Workshop:  LegoViz

We were asked to put on a workshop as a part of the World Science Festival.  We love legos.  So at the workshop, we spent some time talking about how to tell stories with data, then jumped to the fun part of telling stories with LEGOS.

With the blessing of yet another friend and mentor, Yarrow Kraner, we decided to use a different type of information for our lego-visualizations.  We wanted to help kids and people of all ages tell THEIR story; their goals; their aspirations; their identities.   So we used the SuperDudes format for helping people describe themselves as superheroes, then asked them to build their super hero tool belts with legos.

We saw lots of amazing creations.  There were platforms for time travel, swiss-army-knife style tools that could restore crop lands in seconds, at least one heavy artillery cannon, and loads of inventive props that helped people tell their stories.


Alex and I both agree that the vision Yarrow had with SuperDudes resulted in the best question ever:  ”what’s your super hero story?” and we had a lot of fun teaching people to think creatively about visualizing information in a storytelling context.


We loved every minute of this experience.  We’re honored and humbled to be a part of it.  If you’re in NYC, stop by EYEBEAM and tell them we sent you.

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