Geoffrey Shea Wins the Twilio Developer Contest with Play: The Hertzian Collective

Gshea_play_2 Congratulations to Geoffrey Shea, creator of Play: The Hertzian Collective, a musical sound game/toy created with projected video images and played collectively by viewers on their mobile phones.

For the past two weeks, we’ve run a developer contest category for phone controlled multi-player games, and among the fun submissions the Hertzian Collective struck us as the most unique and impressive installation.

What is Play: The Hertzian Collective?

Visual rhythms and a spoken text explore schoolyard games: the structured and unstructured play we invented as children.  Arranged in three groups of overlapping, circular, video-projected images, rhythm sequences are controlled by viewers dialing a toll free phone number and selecting beats by pressing buttons on their keypad.

Inviting and participatory, structured something like a primitive musical instrument or an elaborate clockwork toy, visitors with mobile phones take control of some part of the action or another. Exploration quickly gives way to jamming and collaboration as each player realizes that they are sharing control with other viewers standing nearby.

This is a video of some people playing:

Created at the Mobile Experience Lab ( at the Ontario College of Art & Design by Geoffrey Shea with software development by Rob King.

Interview with Geoffrey Shea


How did you get into building interactive art like the Hertzian Collective?

I’ve been working in the Mobile Lab at OCAD with software artist Rob
King for several years on a range of playful projects, some of which you
can see here:
In specific, together with the rest of the team, we did the Cell Phone
Xylophone (a musical instrument) and Tentacles (a game) which used
pretty convoluted phone to network patches. We’d need to get a phone
number, connect to online VOIP services, send user controls to a PBX
server, forward those commands through a VPN to the on-site controller,

How did you hear about Twilio?

When I talked to Rob about starting to set that all up for Play:
The Hertzian Collective, he suggested we just use Twilio, which cut the
complexity at least in half. He had already used it in some other
projects and so was confident that it would do the job. Part of our
initial objective was to make it as accessible as possible, so we wanted
any cell phone at all to work as an interface. Not just for the 10-20%
of people with smart phones.

What technology/gadgets/languages etc. did you use to build the app?

Play: The Hertzian Collective actually incorporates a lot of elements
that you could find in the other Mobile Lab works and in my own work as
an artist and musician. It’s like a big, publicly installed rhythm
sequencer. People who come by see the set of video images projected onto
overlapping disks and the rotating heads and then see that they are
encouraged to dial up and take control. Three different phone numbers
connect to three different sets of controls: one for the 8-disk music
sequence, and two to control the two talking head poets. After playing
around and figuring out how the whole thing works, you finally realize
that you’re actually jamming with other players who have dialed in, to
make a collaborative sound/text mash-up. (That’s the Collective.
Hertzian because it’s on radio waves/phones and sound waves. And Play
because it is half game and half instrument.)

How long did it take to build?

Between writing the text, recording the music and performers, building
the projection surface, programming the display in vvvv and the network
communication in Python and Twilio, we spent about six months putting
the whole thing together.