The last time we wrote about the designers behind the Polish firm panGenerator, they had visualized the deaths of World War II as a cascade of bullet shells. In collaboration with Disney, their latest project is decidedly more family-friendly: Mickeyphon, a robotic Mickey Mouse head, which resamples the people dancing and playing around it to create an endlessly mutating children’s song.
In appearance, the Mickeyphon looks like a Star Wars imperial droid wearing a set of Mickey Mouse ears. Although black when turned off, the Mickeyphon’s front panel comes to life when powered on, revealing a vivid LED equalizer that pulses with colored lights as it sings. PanGenerator calls these animated patterns faces: there are four in all, and they display randomly. The faces are meant to give Mickeyphon a playful personality, especially since it is programmed to rotate and sing to whomever is making noise around it.
Mickeyphon’s songs are little electronic ditties of panGenerator’s devising, composed to sound like silly children’s songs. What makes Mickeyphon so fun for kids is that it actually incorporates the sounds they make into its songs. When Mickeyphon picks up a noise around it–a cough, a giggle, the sound of someone talking–it automatically records it, then uses it to replace a sample in the song. Each song has three samples that can be replaced, with the Mickeyphon cycling between them in order according to the sounds it hears. The result is a weirdly abstract Mickey Mouse robot that never sings the same song twice.
According to panGenerator’s Krzysztof Goliński, Disney originally approached the Polish new media designers back in October, giving them free reign to use their audio-visual chops to make something interactive inspired by the company’s properties. Before panGenerator even had an idea on what they were going to make, they started by reducing the classic design of Mickey Mouse down to its simplest possible representation–three conjoined black orbs–then built out from there.
Although some adults have called the Mickeyphon “terrifying,” Goliński swears kids love it. Maybe a little too much, even. Upon debuting at Warsaw’s Ethnographic Museum, Goliński says the scene was utter bedlam. “The opening had so many children and small kids running around the sculpture, screaming and trying to get it to repeat them,” he remembers. Best experienced in small groups, then. No one install this near a Chuck E. Cheese.