Moveable Type

Moveable Type Exhibition

I was in New York recently and saw a wonderful piece of video art, displayed in the lobby of the new New York Times building. It’s called Moveable Type and, in the words of the designers, it’s “an active portrait of the New York Times that is fueled by the contents of the daily paper and the visitors to NYTimes.com.” It uses natural language processing algorithms to “extract fragments — words, phrases, quotes, numbers and places — from The Times’s growing, living, real-time news database and to recombine these fragments into a series of ever changing kinetic compositions.”

Physically, it consists of a couple of hundred small screens (deliberately old fashioned, vacuum-fluorescent displays) suspended on a wire grid, each mounted on a little computer, complete with a speaker, and all networked into the Times’ database, stretching back to the middle of the 19th century. There are about 15 moving “scenes” that it works through, each expressing a different theme, and pinging material around the room with sound that travels as well. Sometimes it sounds like a subway, other times like typewriters or linotype machines. The content itself never repeats because it’s wired into the living, breathing news of the world.

I was blown away by it and could have stayed for hours. Take a look at the video below (1:45). It gives you a taste, but keep in mind that it was made with a still camera and text is mostly unreadable, so it’s hard to appreciate what’s going on.

The Times posted this article about the installation along with this video interview with the artists, Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen.

The New York Times building is at 620 8th Avenue, between 40th & 41st Streets, across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I believe the lobby is open 24/7.

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2 Comments on “Moveable Type”

  1. Norman Says:

    A version of this was installed last year at SF MOMA. I don’t know if it’s still there, but it was one of the most interesting pieces there.

  2. Steve Says:

    They did something called “Listening Post,” which was pretty similar but hooked into newsgroups and chat rooms and things like that instead of the Times database. But I don’t think it ran at SF MOMA. There’s more here: http://www.earstudio.com/projects/listeningpost.html


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