Syyn Labs lights up Glow festival

Syyn Labs' "DNA Sequencer" lights up Santa Monica's Crescent Bay Park during the "Glow" festival on Sept. 25, 2010.
Syyn Labs' "DNA Sequencer" lights up Santa Monica's Crescent Bay Park during the "Glow" festival on Sept. 25, 2010. Kim Nowacki/KPCC

The yellow caution tape wasn’t much of a deterrent for people who slid under it’s flimsy border to get a closer look at the “DNA Sequencer,” one of the flashier illuminated art installations that made up Santa Monica’s sprawling Glow festival this past Saturday.

By day, the piece was a tangled mess of plywood, old-school ribbon wire and Arduino programming boards. By night, the installation’s 512 individually controlled LED lights had been meticulously arranged to form a double helix in which the lights pulse and flash in time to the music.

“Really, my hats off to you all for doing such beautiful work. I hope you are as proud as I am because this is amazing. Really, you’ve done something extraordinary,” Syyn Labs President Adam Sadowsky said in an evening pep talk to his team that created the “DNA Sequencer” and has been working on it since April.

Based in Los Angeles, Syyn Labs is a relatively new group of techies and artists whose website boasts the tagline: High Voltage Debauchery.

The members — entrepreneurs, engineers, physicists, roboticists, all-around technology geeks — first became acquainted through the monthly Mindshare LA events held downtown.

The collective is perhaps best known for its collaboration with indie-rock band OK Go on the music video for “This Too Shall Pass.” Built and filmed in an Echo Park warehouse, the video drew instant buzz for its musical Rube Goldberg machine (think of the game “Mouse Trap”).

Filmed in just one shot, the video features 89 machine interactions. Only three attempts out of 85 were completely successful and in the process, the team destroyed two pianos, 10 TVs and went to Home Depot more than 100 times.

Since then, Syyn Labs has been commissioned to build more Rube Goldberg machines, including ones for Disney XD and Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report.”

“The next thing we know we’re up to our necks in Rube Goldberg machines,” chuckled Dan Busby, an original Syyn Labs member. “Which, you know, we enjoy. But they’re a lot of work.”

Syyn Labs’ primary objective is to create contraptions that encourage play and participation, such as a comic book-looking augmented reality Cloud Mirror.

“Our roots are more technical stuff, a lot of physical stuff,” noted Busby, standing shirtless in the Santa Monica heat as the team raced the clock to meet Glow’s twilight opening. “This (the ‘DNA Sequencer’) is more of our style… sound, light and the audience can interact with that. That’s what we really like to do is interaction. Rube Goldberg machines are a lot of fun but they’re kind of one-time things.”

Syyn Labs was invited by the organizers of Glow to participate in the festival’s sophomore effort, along with 19 other commissioned installations.

Glow originally debuted in 2008, but organizers — the city and the Santa Monica Arts Foundation — weren’t ready to handle the over-whelming mass of people who showed up, some mistakenly thinking it was a rave. After a couple years to regroup, this past weekend’s Glow ran from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. along Santa Monica’s beach promenade, famous pier and Palisades Park. Around 100,000 visitors were expected to have attended.

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