Kids’ Research lab, Mirages & miracles, AI x Music

The new Ars Electronica Center, part 2:

(Linz, June 24, 2019) Making the invisible visible, turning the still life of rocks into magical fantasy worlds, music-making machines from different eras, AI systems that compose music, and a children’s book about a survival artist – the second opening phase of the new Ars Electronica Center presents three more fascinating exhibitions.
Having played the role of a telescope looking into the future, the Ars Electronica Center is now a compass that helps people navigate that future. Four million euros have been invested in the new Museum of the Future by the city of Linz (2.5 million euros) and Ars Electronica (1.5 million euros). “The second major opening phase of the new Ars Electronica Center celebrates human curiosity, fantasy, and creativity,” according to Gerfried Stocker, artistic director of Ars Electronica. “In the new Kids’ Research Lab, our youngest and most curious visitors can try out technologies such as AI in a playful way. The exhibition ‘Mirages & miracles’ offers a virtuoso, fantasy-filled augmented reality production and the ‘AI x Music’ display shows that music has always been a primary way for us to express our creativity – by trying to produce music automatically.”

And then there’s another highlight and debut: “Our infotrainers have produced a wonderful children’s book for the first time,” says Stocker. “The book is about Tardi, a water bear that is discovered by accident in our BioLab. When the little survival artist disappears, his adventure-filled journey through the new Ars Electronica Center begins. But we won’t tell you what Tardi experiences there or where he ends up!”

Program for opening weeks
The second major opening phase of the new Ars Electronica Center runs until Sunday, July 21, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Until then, every weekend will have its own special theme. The Ars Electronica team and countless experts from the fields of art and science will take you on special tours through the exhibition, offer workshops in the new labs, and give insights into current trends in their

THU 27 June to SUN 30 June:
Optimizing our body – are cyborgs the better people?
THU 4 July to SUN 7 July:
The human brain – the pinnacle of evolution?
THU 11 July to SUN 14 July:
50 years of moon landing – the reinvention of the future
SUN 21 July:
50th anniversary of the moon landing

Compass – Navigating the Future:
In the new Kids’ Research Lab – discover the world through play
People who are excited about the future develop an idea of what it should look like. People who are excited about the future want to help create it. And people who are excited about the future want to help decide what role technology should – and shouldn’t – play.
The new Kids’ Research Lab is there to get young visitors – and the young at heart – excited about the future, fuel their curiosity, and encourage them to sound out the potential of new technologies in a playful way.
This Kids’ Research Lab is a playground. Using artificial intelligence, here everyone can compose music, program and control robots, build Lego creatures and bring them to virtual life, and discover mysterious lifeforms under the microscope. Lifeforms like Tardi, the water bear who goes on the journey of his life and makes a stop at the Kids’ Research Lab…

Trax – Interactive Musical Experience
What computer generated imagery (CGI) does for films, “Trax” wants to do for music. This music platform, which is as simple as it is fun, uses artificial intelligence to support creative artists in composing music. Musical instruments and notes are placed on a visualized soundtrack and played back. Several tracks and instruments together make up a little orchestra.

“nonvisual-art” is an image that is visible and invisible at the same time. It makes science into an artistic tool: light that is invisible at first is fragmented into visible colors by a polarization filter and then formed into an image. Viewed through 3D glasses, the image even becomes a space. Lisa Buttinger is the name of the young artist who painstakingly put this magical world together piece by piece. In 2017, she won the Golden Nica of the Prix Ars Electronica in the category u19 – CREATE YOUR WORLD.

Augmented Reality Sandbox
The “Augmented Reality Sandbox” expands a traditional sandbox with 3D visualizations to illustrate geo-scientific concepts. Topographical contour lines are projected in real time onto piles and pits of sand, making the sandbox a color-coded altitude map that includes simulated bodies of water.


This is a place for robots to romp! These talented little guys help you play, draw, and make music. But it’s not just fun and games here: it’s also a way for children to get a playful introduction to the world of programming.


The “Animaker” is an interactive installation that blurs the boundaries between the real and virtual worlds. You can build an animal or other creature out of Lego blocks, then see it “come to life” in a virtual environment using artificial intelligence.

Here comes Tardi: a water bear at the Ars Electronica Center
idea and story: Ulrike Mair / concept and implementation: Katharina Hof / Illustration: Nini Spagl

Tardi is a tardigrade, also known as a water bear. And that makes him special. Why? He has the “Dsup Factor,” which makes him nearly indestructible. Boiling water? No problem! Liquid helium at minus 272 degrees? Bring it on! 6000 bars of pressure? You guessed it – not a problem. Even a vacuum combined with cosmic rays in space hardly affects water bears. When things get really tough, they go into a kind of death state. When conditions have improved, they wake up again. For a long time, it was a mystery how water bears manage to do this. The first thing researchers discovered was that water bears dispensed with many stress reactions as they evolved, while at the same time accumulating genes that protected them from negative influences. But then Japanese experts came across a gene that is unique in the animal kingdom: water bears have a protein – called “Dsup” (“Damage Supressor”) by researchers – that protects their DNA from hard radiation. It’s that simple.
But back to Tardi. Tardi is the hero of the first children’s book written by the Ars Electronica Center infotrainers. It tells about the adventures of a water bear discovered accidentally by children during an experiment in the Biolab at the Ars Electronica Center. It escapes, makes its astonished way through the Museum of the Future, and discovers all kinds of unexpected things: Mucki, the muscle cell, a marionette robot, a very elegant worm, and even artificial intelligence, up close and personal. “Da ist Tardi: Ein Bärtierchen im Ars Electronica Center” is available now at the Museum of the Future.

Mirages & miracles by Adrien M & Claire B
“Mirages & miracles” celebrates augmented reality in a way that is both virtuosic and magical. The fantasy fireworks by the French artist duo Adrien M & Claire B always originate in a “Silence of Stones.”
Stones are inanimate material. Stones do not move, they make no sound. Stones are a metaphor for things that are real and concrete. And that’s where Adrien M & Claire B come in. Their stones form the sculptural starting point for a journey into an augmented reality full of poetry: when you look at these stones through the camera of a tablet, they immediately awaken to life and become part of a fantastic world of poetry and fantasy. Suddenly, little figures are doing a graceful dance over artfully arranged rows of stones, balancing along lines, dissipating into clouds of dots, taking form again and beginning their dance anew. From the structures of the stones, lines and dots emerge to become three-dimensional swirls, swarms, and objects before they withdraw and disappear just as quickly as they appeared. With “Mirages & miracles,” Adrien M & Claire B play with the boundaries between animate and inanimate, artificial wonder and true illusion. And they show what amazing worlds we can create from unadorned material using only our fantasy.

AI x Music

The exhibition “Artificial Intelligence meets Music” is about the encounter between artificial intelligence and music, between human creativity and technical perfection.
Music may be the most emotional art form we humans have produced. At the same time, it has deep connections to mathematics and physics. Its history is therefore about the people who composed and played it, but also about the instruments, tools, and devices needed for performing it. This story begins with the first string and wind instruments of ancient times and ends with the digital synthesizers of our day. It covers both the wax rollers and soot-covered glass plates of the gramophone and the digital streaming services of the Internet. In all these eras, composers and musicians played a pioneering role in expanding the technological possibilities of their time. Machine learning and other methods of AI give today’s artists completely new possibilities for creative composition, with potential that is only just becoming apparent. With the exhibition “AI x Music,” the new Ars Electronica Center looks back at the cultural and technical history of automated music makers and forward into a future where the music industry will be shaped by AI applications. No matter what the time period, it’s never been a matter of mere technology, but of fundamental questions about the relationship between human and machine.

The instrument that plays itself

Banū Mūsā ibn Shākir, Liang Zhipeng (CN), ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien (DE)
“We would like to explain how an instrument […] is made that continually plays any desired melody […] by itself, sometimes in a slow rhythm […] and sometimes in a fast rhythm, and we can change from melody to melody as well, whenever we wish.”
These words do not come from modern AI researchers. Astonishingly, they were written over 1000 years ago. The manuscript “al-Āla allatī tuzammir bi-nafsihā der Banū Mūsā ibn Shākir” dates back to the mid 9th century. Imad Samir describes a universal flute player that represents the very first programmable, universal musical instrument in human history. Using a pinned barrel, which was later to become the mechanical heart of countless European automatic musical instruments, he asserted that any melody or instrument could be played.
As part of an exhibition in 2015, the ZKM | Karlsruhe presented a complete German translation of Imad Samir’s original text for the first time. However, the show’s central attraction was the mechanical reconstruction of the automatic player, along with an animation by Liang Zhipeng that explained how it worked. Both are on display at the new Ars Electronica.

Barrel piano
Spring mechanism, coin slot, 10 melodies, Poupart, Ciocca, Mancier; Reims, France 1900
In the late 19th century, music boxes and other devices were very common. They imitated musical instruments as well as the human voice. At around the same time, mechanical pianos and organs were also invented. They were operated by turning a crank mounted on the front, which was extended by a worm screw inside.
The early twentieth century saw the invention of barrel pianos with spiral spring motors that were first wound up with a crank and then triggered by a coin. A wooden cylinder was studded with 20,000 to 30,000 nails or pins that triggered a hammer to strike a piano string at the right time, creating the desired sound.

Flute organ
Mechanical flute with crank and pinned barrel ca. 1795 Fa. Clavis; Vienna
The flute organ also uses a pinned barrel. The organ consists solely of flute pipes operated by a crank and a metal weight. The first flute organs were probably made in Germany and presumably presented to audiences for the first time at the Müllersche Kunstkabinett in Vienna in the 1780s. Smaller flute organs with some twenty to thirty pipes were installed in clock cabinets or in the lower cases of clocks. Larger instruments with over a hundred pipes were built into furniture of all kinds. Flute organs were expensive luxury items whose external appearance made them a highlight of Biedermeier home furnishing.

Sound Factory Haslach
The barrel piano and flute organ are both on loan from the “Mechanische Klangfabrik (Sound Factory) Haslach.” In 1994, Erwin Rechberger opened it as the first Austrian museum for automatic music players. He and his son spent decades gathering pieces for this unique collection from all over Europe. With over 160 exhibits, the Sound Factory Haslach provides a thorough tour through the history of automatic music, from the baroque era to the period between the wars.

Seamoons, Mr. Knocky, Knockman Family
Maywa Denki (JP)
Nobumichi Tosa aka Maywa Denki says he makes “mechanical music.” His instruments are called “Seamoons,” “Mr. Knocky” and “Knockman Family” and together they form a group of so-called nonsense instruments.
“Seamoons” is a machine based on the human vocal apparatus. A motor drives a bellows that pushes air through rubber bands to create a singing tone. The feedback of the motor changes the tension in the artificial vocal chords, varying the pitch.
“Mr. Knocky” is a toy that makes a knocking sound mechanically, without any electricity. The drumming toy figure is connected by wires to two mallet controllers. When they are moved like drumsticks, the motion is transferred to Mr. Knocky’s arms and he hits his drum.
The “Knockman Family” consists of several small mechanical instruments that are spring wound like a wind-up toy and then either hammer, ring, or bow strings with small movements.

Mirages & miracles / Adrien M & Claire B / Fotocredit: Ars Electronica – Robert Bauernhansl / Printversion / Album

AIxMusic / Fotocredit: Ars Electronica – Robert Bauernhansl / Printversion

Augmented Reality Sandbox / Fotocredit: Ars Electronica – Robert Bauernhansl / Printversion / Album