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G4C 2018: Hands On (and Off) With ‘Opinions’

At the Games for Change Festival, video games aren’t the only things to experience. Opinions is an art installation/experience by artist and current New School grad student Yanbin Song that has players aping Donald Trump.

In this case, people were invited to stand in front of a TV screen playing muted campaign speech footage of Trump. After being directed to mimic Trump’s gestures and arm movements, they slipped on headphones connected to a small, smooth black oval that is known as a Leap Motion Controller that is placed on the table in front of them. This device tracks hand and figure movements, inputs this data to a midi keyboard connected to the music-making software Max Msp, and generates sound based on the movements it senses. The idea behind this was to let the body language speak for itself: and speak it did.

All of this technology produced a waterfall of jarring noises and oftentimes sounded as if a child was banging their hands on a synthesizer or a toy xylophone. It wasn’t pretty, but it was definitely a fascinating experience to “hear” the hands if a somewhat uncomfortable one to be imitating Trump at some of his most infamous moments.

G4C 2018: Hands On (and Off) With ‘Opinions’ - n3rdabl3
The setup for “Opinions.” Photo courtesy of Yanbin Song.

This was actually the second part of Song’s “Opinions” project. The first part of the project involved Song interviewing everyday people about topics such as food, holidays, politics, and pets. The movements of their hands were recorded over an Arduino, a physical computing kit that Song coded in conjunction with light sensors to sense when the light was being blocked by the hand movements above it. It was then placed in a box with holes to accommodate the sensors. This device also used Max MSP to generate sounds. However, being a less advanced device than the Leap Motion Controller, the noises it created were “a bit binary” and do sound similar between interviews and videos.

G4C 2018: Hands On (and Off) With ‘Opinions’ - n3rdabl3
Song getting “Opinions” ready for a festival attendee. Photo Courtesy of Yanbin Song.

The idea behind Song’s project was to draw attention to all the communication that we do nonverbally, especially with our hands, and how that “sounds.” During an email correspondence after the Festival, Song added that she wanted this project, “to inspire people to think from another perspective (i.e. the ‘hands’ opinions’) because from my point of view, social issues are quite related to perspectives on different people. To understand what the hands’ opinions are is like thinking from other’s perspective and trying to… understand them, which is like having empathy towards other people in the society.” Although my part of the experience itself was short, the concept is intriguing to me and does have a support in psychological and sociological concepts and research.

For more information on this and Song’s other projects, some of which pursue related trains of thought, please check out her website here.

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