Inhuman Microphone App Circumvents Occupy Wall Street's Megaphone Ban

One of the most recognisable hallmarks of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been its "human microphone," a technique through which protesters make speeches louder without the use of megaphones, which are banned from the protests. (Amplifying sound outdoors requires a permit in New York.)

The concept behind the human microphone is simple: The crowd repeats in unison what the speaker has said, chanting each sentence in succession so that people further away can hear it. Depending on your point of view, it's either inspiring or tiresome. The Inhuman Microphone does essentially the same thing - except it uses iPhones instead of human voices.

According to its creators, the use of hundreds or thousands of iPhone speakers rather than a single megaphone should be enough to get around New York's ban on amplification, because no one would argue that a smartphone's speaker would be covered by the ban. When these smartphones speak with one voice, as it were, they can not only increase the volume of the speaker's voice, but spread it to locations throughout the protests.

David Vella, Henrik Pettersson, Tom Leitch, and Tom Hannen built the Inhuman Megaphone at this past weekend's London Music Hack day event, where hacker types team up with each other to conceive and create functional music apps over the course of a single 24-hour period.

Here's how it works: The speaker simply shouts their message into an iPhone running the Inhuman Megaphone app, which sends it to a server on the internet, then back down to the smartphones of other people at the protest. They would, presumably, turn their phones up to full volume, which would then repeat the speaker's words.

The tricky part has to do with synchronizing all of those iPhones so that they play the speaker's words at exactly the same time. According to the creators,

Network latencies meant that we couldn't just fire the audio off as soon as the client received it - we have to ‘synchronize watches,' as it were, so that they all trigger off at a given moment. This was achieved using Node,, and some hack day time-sync-javacript-magic.

Luckily, you don't need to understand how the Inhuman Microphone works in order to use it. Just like democracy.

Some critics of the OWS movement have wondered why people protesting against abuses by large corporations would use devices created by large corporations in their efforts. Surely, there's a bit of irony there, and the spectacle of #OWS protesters holding aloft smartphones created by one of the biggest corporations in the world that are connected to the internet by wireless service from another massive corporation might give those people more to complain about.

Still, we can't help but applaud this development on the strength of its ingenuity. It also makes us wonder which band will be first to employ it at a concert - for instance, they could send just the vocals, keyboard part, or anything else to all the iPhones at a venue, somewhat in the style of the Flaming Lips' boombox experiment.

The presentation of the Inhuman Microphone from London Music Hack Day has some more information, or you can just try it yourself (as of right now, you can only join as a replayer): observes, tracks and analyses the music apps scene, with the belief that it's crucial to how humans experience music, and how that experience is evolving.


    Inhuman Microphone App for the Occupy Wall Street protesters: a product brought to you by corporations.
    None of the protesters seem to have downloaded the iRony app.

      The majority of these protesters aren't against corporations.
      They're against corporations who are unjust and unlawful, who do something wrong and aren't punished for it either because of their contacts in legislation or because their pockets are filled with money.

      If I hear one more uninformed jackass say 'Oh look they have ipods! hurpa durpa [email protected]#' I'm gonna cut someones fucking balls off.

        I thought they were protesting about the distribution of wealth thingo... *confused*

          more so the effect that what matt mentioned has on the distribution of wealth.

          Admittedly, many of them send mixed messages and many of them are just on the bandwagon.

          At least I am in the 1% who has balls enough to not be a hypocrite.

          If you have food, shelter and sanitation YOU ARE THE 1%. Let alone a fucking iphone.

        Well personally I'd say the fact that so many of them have enough idevices from the SAME corporate entity to make this app viable shows an extremely disturbing amount of corporate loyalty and affection. Significant enough to undermine the impression they're trying to convey.

        Fair enough- you can not reasonably get away from corporations in any shape or form in every day life and to expect that of the protesters is idiotic, but a more than significant level of uniformity in corporate loyalty is not something to ignore or rationalise away.

    Wouldn't it be easier if the speech-giver uploaded a document which was broadcast in the same way to other users, but instead of using their microphones, it used a karaoke style bouncy ball so that all the crowd could shout it at once? I'm sure it'd be easier, plus it'd be a lot louder.

      I think the idea here is so they don't have to yell. Remember, these guys are hardcore nerds we're talking about. People who have brought you such ideas as the USB-powered refrigerator "When the 10 steps to the fridge are just too much".

      Yelling out is what they've already been doing. It's really not hard to harmonise a rhythm in a large crowd, they're really looking for something where they don't have to yell.

    Every video I've seen of these losers has undermined any solidarity I had for their initial cause. They're really asking for it now. Time for the tear gas, batons and boots.

    lazy fucks. they can't even *yell* now. no hope in them getting a real job.

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