They Might Be Giants...

Dan Acher, founder of Swiss experiential art outfit, Happy City Lab, gives us a tour around one of his team’s recent installations – Sentinelles: a trio of huge, brooding, musical monoliths – powered by human interaction (and a little Makey Makey magic).

What exactly is (are??) Sentinelles?

It’s a massive, interactive, multi‐player musical instrument created in partnership with Studio Corium, to encourage people to interact and make music together in the street.

Using Space Odyssey ‐style monoliths?

Not far off! Our brief was to create an installation for Geneva’s annual three‐day long Fête de la Musique. We set to work; building three 5 m tall aluminum prism structures, each one bolstered with Makey Makey‐powered wooden panels. The piece is finished with 24 steel sheets, which act as the instrument’s keys – all tethered to a single computer hidden in one of the towers.

How does it work?

In groups of six (two people per tower) players collaborate to explore the sounds created by the different surfaces, all composing ephemeral improvised music through their actions.

Each player starts out by making sounds using their own tower. However they quickly figure out that their actions also influence the sounds being made by other people too.

How did it go down at the festival? Was it popular?

Sentinelles triggered beautiful interactions between different members of the public; total strangers of all ages and walks of life. By the end of the event, over 2,000 people had engaged with it – in a single weekend. The local press even reported it as the highlight of the festival.

Is this a normal ‘day at the office’ for you guys?

At Happy City Lab, all of our work is centered around the idea that, by creatively rethinking our use of public space, we can transform the way people engage both with each other and their environment; bringing joy and a renewed sense of community.

So, ‘yes’ – to answer your question...

Will you be building another Sentinelles‐type‐thing?

Not at the moment... but we’re keen to explore this musical interaction at another festival. In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of our latest project: Turn Me On.


Edit 12th June, 2015:
Other artists involved in the project were:


COO of Makey Makey