Infantcore: Babies Create Experimental Music in Jam Session at Machine Project

Babies came in waves on Saturday, for Machine Project's Infantcore, a five-hour experimental jam session in which playing 6- to 18-month-olds determined what erratic, synthesized sounds would be heard in the adjoining gallery.

At 11 a.m., when Infantcore officially started, there was a crowd, but by 1:30 or 2:00 p.m., only two or three babies were left ("Maybe it's naptime," suggested David Eng, Machine's Operations Manager).

Around 3 p.m., there was another swell, and between eight and nine babies played in front of a camera that fed into the computer of sound artist, Scott Cazan. He had developed software that isolated baby-sized blobs of color and then determined where those blobs were in an allotted space. Depending on the location of the baby blobs, which the software mapped on a grid with x and y coordinates, rhythms, pitches and sound qualities would be assigned.

In December, artist Nate Page turned the main room of the Echo Park nonprofit into a “plaza," removing the storefront windows, reinstalling them twenty feet back and building a knee-high platform. This created an alcove that he painted completely red, and it's now a brightly colored recess on a stretch of Alvarado defined by closely-packed storefronts. “Machine's gone," said one Echo Park resident when he first drove by.

Baby Otto, whose father recently co-taught a Machine Project course on stealing cars for kids, crawls around the plaza often, and one of his visits inspired Infantcore. With the plaza functioning as a giant playpen, parents standing by and spectators watching both from Machine's interior and the street, it would be difficult to tell who was inside or outside, who was looking and who was being looked at.

While babies played in what parents kept calling “the aquarium," viewers could sit on the other side of the glass, on chairs in Machine's now-narrow gallery. That's where the sound broadcast. Midway through the afternoon, a woman wandered in from the street and sat quietly for a while. “When is it going to happen?" she eventually asked. “It's happening now," said the man next to her, who'd brought his baby inside for a break.

“From in here, it's pretty surreal," said Allen. You couldn't hear anything through the glass and the obscure, sometimes menacing sound that you did hear could make the playing babies and the traffic passing in the background ominous. At one point, two boys were playing alone in the center of the plaza, sharing a toy truck and hardly moving. The sound they generated was a static, faltering thump. When two fire trucks sped by, neither sound nor babies reacted to the commotion at all.

“On the one hand, this seems like a really sweet event for parents and babies. But inside the gallery, the experience is entirely different," said Allen. “We're interested in doing things that different people can engage in different ways."

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