By Clive Young.
Maker Faire is an unusual DIY science and technology event that began in Northern California five years ago, bringing together entrepreneurs, hobbyists, crafters, artists and just plain oddballs for a celebration of the creative spirit. Having achieved an enormous reputation on the West Coast, where the two-day event garners 90,000 visitors annually, Maker Faire branched out this year, touching down in Detroit and New York.
The festival, re-dubbed World Maker Faire when it hit the New York Hall of Science in late September, was a giddy, family-friendly showcase of creativity, know-how and old fashioned showmanship. It was the kind of place where a band played while standing between Tesla coils; where dropping Mentos into Coke bottles was transformed into performance art; and where a team spent five days building a life-sized, 50,000-lbs. version of the Mousetrap board game, the execution of which ended with a giant bank safe plummeting on to a trashed NYC cab.
Visitors who wanted to get hands-on with exhibits had opportunities to learn how to solder and screen-print, and those with more advanced plans could pick up any number of kits that would teach you how to build homebrew guitars, amps out of Ritz Cracker boxes, full-sized Theremins and even MP3s players. Lest it all sound a tad too techie for the masses, a crew from Martha Stewart Living was also there to teach budding crafters how to make Halloween decorations.
Of course, our concern was how it all sounded, and there were plenty of unusual audio pursuits in evidence. Take for instance, a fellow named Nelson who was giving Electric Chaircuts, where audio of his scissors was cacophonously warped by a tool belt full of Boss guitar effects and a back-worn amplifier. There were also the ear-splitting Jet Ponies—a swinging, carousel-like ride whose hand-painted sign cheerily warned “This ride may kill you” (it certainly might make you deaf).
Two of the most interesting lo-fi audio presentations, however, were Tape Lake and Axegrinder. Each was essentially a noise-based instrument that could be played and enjoyed by just about anyone (except my five-year-old, much to her consternation); see for yourself in the video clips bookending this article.
If the creation of random noise proved too much for visitors, there were simpler sights that still raised the spectre of rock n' roll. Watching multimedia designer Phillip Pond pedal his Fishbikez around the site, it was impossible not to recall how Bono once sang that "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Hopefully World Maker Faire will return to New York next year so that more people can catch the rolling fish and everything else the event has to offer.