The Human Fax Machine

The following is a set of instructions for a workshop activity I ran in Tasmania recently for the Convergence Lab. The original activity was devised by Brogan Bunt, and together with Brogan, I developed it in collaboration with Bettina Frankham at UOW Media Arts.

The instructions below are by now fairly refined… although having carried it out in Hobart with nearly 60 highly trained artists and teachers, I have some ideas how to push it even further.

The Human Fax Machine

AIM:
Collaboratively invent a sound-based code system to transmit an image through space.

HOW IT WORKS:
Your group gets one unsophisticated soundmaking device:
eg a spoon+glass, or a bell, or a jar with dried chickpeas.

As a group, develop your transmission/reception system before you play the game.

Your group splits into two sub-teams:
The “ENCODERS”, who transmit the image-message, and the “DECODERS”, who receive it.

You should write down your code, so that both the ENCODERS and the DECODERS have a working copy of it.

Test your system out with a simple graphic image (a line drawing) that you draw yourself.

Discuss how it works, and refine it by answering the following questions.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELVES:
-is your code appropriate for the soundmaking device you are allocated?
-what if the ENCODERS make a mistake when transmitting part of the image?
-what if the DECODERS make a mistake when receiving part of the image?
-how do you deal with “noise” in your system?
-what if you need to clarify, pause, or start from scratch?

Don’t agonise over making it perfect. Make sure you leave enough time to play the game!

HOW TO PLAY THE GAME:
Your team will be allocated an image you have never seen before.
THE ENCODERS will be handed the image, but the DECODERS must not see it.

The ENCODERS sit on one side of a partition and the DECODERS sit on the other side.
The two cannot see each other. Nobody is permitted to speak.

The ENCODERS use their soundmaking device to transmit the encoded image.
On the other side of the partition, the DECODERS listen carefully & decipher the audible sound.
The DECODERS now re-draw the image according to the established code.

Once the transmission is complete, the whole team gets together, discusses what went wrong, improves the code system, and carries out a second transmission.

FINALLY, RECONVENE WITH EVERYBODY AND SHARE:
-what species of code systems you all invented;
-what processes you went through to arrive at them;
-how successful your systems were at approximating the original image
(compare original image to received image);
-what was learned in the process;
-what was frustrating or enjoyable about the process…

7 thoughts on “The Human Fax Machine

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