Pythia + What We Have Lost / What We Have Gained

Matthew Mosher

Pythia appears as an old-fashioned touch-tone telephone. However, instead of hearing a dial tone when the receiver is picked up, participants are immediately greeted with a voice menu system. The menus guide people through a series of audio experiences. In doing so, Pythia questions the role of automated voice services in our lives and revalues the time wasted on them. Pythia provides a model of how voice services could be used to create meaningful experiences for people by asking thought provoking reflective questions. Initially, these experiences will mimic that of navigating seemingly endless voice menus and being put on hold, as is familiar when calling any tech support line or modern business. The interaction will begin with a familiar prompt, “Thank you for calling the Pythia Consulting. Your call is important to us. This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes. Für Deutsche presse 1, for English press 2. Please hold while we connect your call.” Users can then select one of six paths to take through the artwork. They can play a storytelling game, consult a digital oracle, discuss their problems with a robotic psychologist, or fall in love with a machine.

The Game. In this game participants will listen to a snippet of a story, and then be asked to add a few sentences to it. Their input is recorded and added to the narrative that has been developed by all previous participants. After contributing to the narrative, participants will have the option to listen to the full story.

To Love. In this option the participant will be asked a series of questions designed to build an emotional connection between two people. These include questions like, “When did you last sing to yourself?” and “What is your most treasured memory?” These questions are derived from Arthur Aaron’s procedure for “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness.” (PSPB, Vol. 23 No. 4, April 1997.) To create a simulated dialog the initial user will also hear responses to the questions generated by the computer and past participants.

The Oracle. Based on the participant’s responses to a series of multiple-choice questions The Oracle will deliver a horoscope.

The Doctor. In this option participants will be asked a series of generic Rogerian psychologist questions like, “What’s bothering you today? How did that make you feel? Tell me more.” This robotic line of questioning references Joseph Wizenbaum’s ELIZA program from 1964.

The Decider. On this path the user is asked a series of questions designed to help them make a tough decision they are facing in life. The questions on this track are derived from Chip and Dan Health’s work on complex infrequent decision making (Decisive, 2013).

Endless Hold. If the user would prefer to not engage with one of the preceding options they may listen to the hold music, forever.

This piece subtly examines the activities our minds go through while waiting. At the same time, it takes a routine mundane experience and transforms it into a provocative exercise in self-reflection.

As a sonic sculpture, this piece relates to the conference theme of sound spectra. The incremental participatory storytelling game links it both to electronic literature and fluidity. Through including narrative snippets from exhibition attendees, the artwork re/presents their contributions to a new infra-visible social organization.

As an art installation, What We Have Lost / What We Have Gained presents a four by three grid of video projected mouths on a spandex screen. When physically pressed by a user, each video sample animates and sings a different vowel tone back to the player. The volume of the singing increases as the player presses harder and deeper into the mouth screen, physically distorting the spandex display surface. In this way, the piece provides audio and video feedback through large upper body gestures applied to a tangible interface, rewarding the user with a multi-modal experience.

This interface affords large arm gestures as input, unlike smaller media control systems. Multiple people can use the interface simultaneously side by side, which allows for duets. Alternatively, shorter children can play the bottom rows while adults play the top rows. The responsiveness of the system and its mappings let participants know that their touches have consequence and allows for immediate playability. The tactility of the fabric surface invites touch, and matches the sensuality of feeling another person’s lips. The title of the piece references some of the affordances of digital media systems, in that here people are invited to touch a signifier of a stranger’s mouth, a provocative and intimate gesture, and something one would never do to a stranger in person. At the same time it acknowledges that the connection people feel they are having is decidedly not with another human, but an abstraction. It asks the user, what is the experience of using their body to interact with digital representations of another’s body? In so doing, the art becomes the multimodal sensory experience called to life by the user through activating the otherwise static interface with their body. The infra-visibility of the singer allows for new social organizations of interaction only available in hybrid media. The inclusion of representations of a digital other’s body also relates it to the conference theme of re/presentation, while the nature of the audio / visual media itself pertains to the theme of light and sound spectra.

About the Artist

Boston native Matthew Mosher is an intermedia artist, research professor, and Fulbright Scholar who creates embodied experiential systems. He received his BFA in Furniture Design from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006 and his MFA in Intermedia from Arizona State University in 2012. While in Phoenix, Arizona he co-founded the non-profit [nueBOX] residency program for emerging performance and installation artists. Currently, he is an assistant professor of Games and Interactive Media at the University of Central Florida. Mosher exhibits his work across the United States, and internationally in India, China, Korea, Austria, Finland, and the Netherlands. His research is published in the ACM Computer-Human Interaction, Tangible Embodied Interaction, and New Interfaces for Musical Expression conference proceedings. His public installations, dynamic performances, and experiential systems bridge the physical and digital worlds by mixing new media, sensing technology, computer programming, collaborative practice, and traditional sculpture processes. When taking a break from teaching and research, he enjoys stillwater kayaking, dispersed camping, and board games.