Genius Camp Winter 2014/15

The Gaping Maw of the Void is Coming for Us, is Coming for Us

At its very core, the goal of an essay is to transfer words and information from one person to many.  But how does one attempt to describe the indescribable? To quote Nietzsche, “Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” Our work is corroborated by the great minds of centuries ago. As Freud theorized, “a portion of the [death] instinct is diverted towards [...the] aggressiveness [... of] civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual's dangerous desire for aggression by setting up an agency within him to watch over it.” Freud seems to believe that this is necessary for the survival of a civilized society-yet he also speaks of “the suffering of civilized man” as a direct result of this societally enforced self-control. This suffering results from societal limitations on aggression and self-expression. We are actively breaking these rules in creating an essay openly condoning aggression toward objects (such as penguins) and acceptance of an inevitable, destructive end (such as The Gaping Maw of the Void). By creating this essay, we actively take steps to circumvent the suffering Freud speaks of. We are becoming the Gods Nietzsche speaks of in the name of escaping the suffering Freud posits.


Jules Gouvin-Moffat and Sam Daitzman

How did this come about?

Each member of our group took on a different role. I (Jules) provided the toy and so spurred its degeneration. Josh took charge of wreaking the havoc. And Sam documented our nightmarish progress with photos and videos. Of the three, Josh's work was likely the most exciting. He began by setting a heat gun (with a temperature of over 1000 degrees) onto the penguin, melting it horrifically. Then, he proceeded to smash it repeatedly with a hammer. We chose a hammer because it symbolized the brutal agony of our eventual annihilation, as a species and as individuals. Once the penguin's face was melted, dented beyond repair, and without both foot and wing, Josh got out the heat gun one last time. This final move melded what once was an adorable children's toy, to a circular piece of wood—our canvas, if you will.



Rarely is one allowed the chance to convey the true devastation of fate. Although it may only be a plastic toy (for now), our group still got to experience an intense, depraved thrill of power, which—let's be honest—is desperately lacking in today's teenage experiences. In addition, our demonic creation will spawn the future tools of chaos.


How does this work?

As well as being a brilliant, conceptual metaphor for humanity, the Penguin is low-maintenance and easy to use. Simply hang on a wall or door knob with the conveniently located string, or just lay on any flat surface. After leaving it alone for some time, you will be confronted with a vague, unsettling sense of fear. Hopefully, this fear will develop into a full-fledged state of catatonia, but we haven't had the chance to test this theory yet. It's a stressful world, and the least we can do is protect and nourish that stress.


What now?

Josh and I will begin a fight to the death to determine who is to gain legal custody of the Penguin. The innocent bystanders who had the misfortune to witness the Penguin's demise will commence emotional counseling. And Sam will become a hermit and move to a forest far away in a desperate attempt to wash away the horrors he has seen.


Original artwork by Josh and Stefano

Writing and soul-crushing existential theory by Jules

Documentation, editing, typography and layout by Sam

The Epitome of Self-Portraits

Jules Gouvin-Moffat

Related Works

Jules Gouvin-Moffat and Sam Daitzman

The Scream is a painting created by Edvard Munch created between 1893 and 1910. Similar to our work, The Scream brings on a sense of existential terror. It should be noted that The Scream is widely accepted to be art.

Anxiety is another painting by Edvard Munch. It represents the fear of an uncaring, apathetic public eye. The colors are meant to represent heartbreak, drawing a strong parallel with our composition’s emotional and visual themes.

Emmett Kelly Reading the Wall Street Journal is a poster by William Harold Hancock. Based on Weary Willie-an unhappy clown character character invented by Emmett Kelly-the painting depicts the dread that comes from thinking about the eternal void coming for us all. In his case, that is the 1930s stock outlook. In our case it’s a Penguin.

Cthulu Rising is a drawing by Jeff Himmelman. It depicts Dread Cthulu, the Sleeper of R'lyeh, high priest of the Great Old Ones rising from the darkness to devour our world. We think the similarities are fairly self-explanatory.

Flapping Car Process

Sophie Lyon and Andrew Todd Marcus

This post does NOT follow the presentation format, but it visually shows a clear process from concept to completion .


Our final product is a car with wings that flap, wheels that can be controlled, and LED lights that change color based on the control of the wheels.

Wheelchair Handdrive Process

Kate Reed and 3 OthersAndrew Todd Marcus
Stefano Pagani
Nathaniel Tong

We started off this studio by learning Autodesk Fusion, the software we will be using for this project. Fusion is a 3D modeling software that allows you to edit dimensions and sizes on models you make. We spent the first few days making objects in the software as exercises. I made a phone case.

Once we were done learning the software, we brainstormed as a studio on what improvements a wheelchair needs and how we can hack it. We want to accessorize the wheelchair as opposed to redesign it. We broke up into groups and started to brainstorm ideas in-depth more.

Our group decided on making the wheelchair faster. We live in a busy fast paced world that the wheelchair hasn’t necessarily kept up with. We want to use a ratchet mechanism, which would allow the user to wheel faster in the chair in a rowing motion as opposed to a wheeling motion, a similar motion to the arms on an elliptical machine. We are mainly focusing on the ratchet mechanism moving the wheelchair forward but hopefully if we have time we can work on brakes as well.

We started our project with a pile of bike parts. We wanted to get the parts from the bike wheels to see if we could use them for our project. We took the wheels apart and explored, and found that we already had some mechanisms that we could recycle instead of creating our own. We started making attachments that would make the bike parts usable for our particular situation. The tricky thing is that because of the parts that we have, the wheels can only turn one way so we have to use a slightly different system for each wheelchair wheel. The left and right wheels are flipped mechanically. We spent the day designing separate parts for each.

We continued our process of making parts and testing them out for a while. We worked on the right wheel first. We decided to put the concept of wheelchair brakes on hold, and decided to just work on the speed aspect of the project.

Throughout the project we have kept the design pretty simple, although we did end up needing one slightly major design change. After testing our previous spider attachment design we realized that we needed to beef it up because it was breaking when we applied force on it. We also realized that the way we were connecting the 8020 bar to the mechanism wasn’t helping our design. It was giving it too much torque, and adding stress to the entire mechanism. We took out the need for a right angle with the 8020 bars and redesigned the connector to accommodate the changes.

On the last day we had another realization. After we put one of the sides together we realized that we had made two of the same sides, but in different ways. We made two of the right sides. Although this was unplanned and would be considered a mistake it was good that we had done it. We had come up with two completely different ways to do the same thing and through doing this we found that one way was much better.

Once we had wrapped our mind around making the left side of the system, it actually wasn’t that difficult. We had all the hard parts made, and just had to edit them a little to be able to use them for the left side. 

Wheelchair Handdrive Final

Kate Reed and 3 OthersAndrew Todd Marcus
Nathaniel Tong
Stefano Pagani

We created a system that allows the user of a wheel chair to go faster. Instead of moving in the wheel chair by pushing the wheels, our mechanism allows the user to use a rowing motion that allows the person to go faster and exercise different muscles. We used the free wheel mechanism and made different attachments to the free wheel that would enable it to snap onto the wheel easily and be ready to use. 

Hubway Musical Topography Process

Kate Reed and 2 OthersAndrew Todd Marcus
Jules Gouvin-Moffat

Our studio was Musical Typography, where we essentially created music for specific geography.  We started off the studio by looking at projects that use live data, how they portray it, and how we might represent that with music. Once inspired to create our own projects then broke off into groups to decide what kind of data we wanted to use to make music.

We made a list of different data that we could access. We sorted each kind of data into two basic categories, data that is live and changes all the time, and data that is set and doesn’t change. Some of the data we were interested in exploring had to do with crime rates, stars, dogs, earthquakes and the Hubway system. We heavily explored stars and earthquakes. We were wondering if we could turn stars into music, and for instance what a constellation might sound like? We ended up choosing a project much closer to home. We chose the Hubway system.

The Hubway is Boston’s bike sharing program. All of its data is open to the public. We decided to take this data and track each bike individually. We wanted to personify the bike and really see how it spends its day and where it goes. We chose three different bikes to track. We are using the data for the bikes for a whole month and comparing their journey. We originally planed on having two separate tracking systems, each a year apart. We decided against that later on though to keep the project simple.

The Hubway gives us a lot of data on each bike. The information that’s important to our project is the duration of the bike ride, the start date, the start station and end station and weather the rider is male or female.

We plan on having a circular visualization. Each Hubway station will be evenly spaced around the circle. Each bike will be a dot and it will go from station to station inside the circle and will leave a trail behind that will look like a spoke on the circle, turning it into a wheel. As each the bike makes more and more trips, the previous trips will become more opaque, creating a web of spokes. The three bikes we track will each be a slightly different color, and it will be fun to watch them shoot around from station to station.

With the plan in place, we then spent the day going though all of the data we have and sorting though it. We have three years worth of data and it is very overwhelming. I think we successfully combed the data and have just what we need now. We can now bring it into Max and start analyzing it and turning it into music and visuals.

The Hubway data is very difficult to organize. There is so much data that it is really difficult to sort through. The computer simply can’t handle all of the data at once, so we waited a lot for the computer today. We also decided to use different data. We are going to map the time of day with the volume of the music, and the duration of the trip with both the duration of the notes and the pitches for the music.

We had another slight change of plans, and decided that we wanted to create an individual song for each of the three bikes, as opposed to one really long song. Each bike will have its own song and then depending on how the songs work together, we are going to layer each bike song on top of one another. We want to explore the concept of layering the bikes, and seeing what emotion that provokes.

Since one of our main goals is to personify the bikes, we are going to use the music to emphasize that. Maybe one bike will be in a minor key, because maybe it doesn’t get used as much, or one bike might be super low sounding? It’s important to us that the bikes to sound different and take on their own personalities.

Once we finished sorting through the data we put it into Max. We got a song from the data for each bike in Max. When we put all three bikes together it sounded horrible though. We hadn’t thought to keep the same musical mode for each bike, so none of the sounds matched. We then re-did the Max portion of the bikes, but kept the same settings for all of them. This made them much more cohesive. Once we had the midi file from Max for all three bikes, we brought it into Ableton. Max saves the file as a midi file, which means that it saves all the data about the music, except for the actual sound of the notes. In Ableton we were able to assign different instruments to each bike and start hearing what they sounded like together. One thing we found is that to have the bikes going all at once is simply too much sound. It broke up the sound better when we split up each bike into a bass, alto and treble range. We are just starting in on the music aspect, and have lots of exploring to do! 

At this point we were feeling a little directionless and needed a reality check. We had made the music and had used the data but didn’t know what to do next. Our music didn’t sound particularly good, but nevertheless, it was made. We didn’t know exactly how to proceed. After expressing this to the coaches, we decided to start over. 

The reason our music didn’t sound good the first time was because our data had no space. This time instead of layering the tracks on top of each other, we decided that each bike would have an individual track and song, but still the composition was a constant string of notes with no breathing room to allow any thought to develop. We had also lost the concept of the personifying the bikes somewhere along the way of our process, and wanted to get back to that idea.

One of the ways we addressed the thickness of sound was to add space to the data. For instance, after a really long bike ride (duration) we would then add a musical rest for each bike that was the same duration of the ride. We also came up with three different bike personalities: cheerful, sad and alone, and busy. We then added more musical space to match each personality. The sad and alone bike has the most space in the data and is in a minor key. The busy bike has no space of the data and is stressed sounding, and the cheerful bike has a few rests and is in a major key. We did all the Max data today and got the midi file for each bike.

My partner, Julia, formulated the final music and I made the diagrams to explain our concepts. It was frustrating because I had to make diagrams for every single step of the process, which is a lot of diagrams. While diagrams are not fun to make or satisfying once you’re done with them, I can see that they are helpful in conveying your process to other people.

I made three diagrams today explaining how we found the pitch, volume, and duration for the music. As evident from the diagrams, there are so many steps to getting ready to make the music then the actual making of the music goes by really fast and is completely an individual thing.

This studio was less about the final project and more about learning the software. I’m much more adept at Max MSP and Ableton now, and glad for it.

Hubway Musical Topography Final

Kate Reed and 2 OthersAndrew Todd Marcus
Jules Gouvin-Moffat

The aim of this studio was to represent data in a unique, interesting way. Kate and I loved the idea of using the massive amount of Hubway user information (a bike sharing program in Boston) available publicly. At first, a basic bicycle likely doesn’t seem that interesting to most of us. That is what served as our inspiration and our challenge for this project-we wanted to give a certain kind of humanity to three randomly-chosen bikes. We tracked two data points-the time of day the bike was used, and the duration of the ride-of these bikes for a month. Then, we assigned them a personality, which would be our main guide later for creating the music. (The three personalities were depressed/lonely, a busy, and a cheerful) We used Max MSP to turn the data points into sound information, and Ableton Live to turn the sound information into actual music. Our final, fascinating result for this project are the three ballads of the bikes.

Unrelated Works

Jules Gouvin-Moffat and Sam Daitzman
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Above, we can see a polar bear marching through a snowstorm while drinking milk from a white ceramic mug. This work has no relation to ours.