MASS Collective combines science with art for creative results

The freaks and geeks are now friends?

Expect surprises when you elevate something to an art and get it down to a science at the same time. The creative collective MASS—an acronym of Music, Art, Science, and Social—unites two demographics who usually do not sit together in the school cafeteria: number-crunching geeks and dreamy-eyed bohemians.

“It started a couple of years ago when a friend and I collaborated on a kinetic sculpture of a fish,” says the group’s cofounder and self-described “shadowy overlord,” Christopher Carter (second from left). “I come from an engineering background, and I learned a lot about sculpture while he learned about electronics. That meeting-of-the-minds experience broadened us both, so I thought, ‘Why not bring together people from different disciplines and see what happens?’”

For example, he says, a chemist might help an artist concoct bioluminescent paint from bacteria; an engineer could connect a Tesla coil (see previous page) to a guitar for some whiz-bang chord changes; and ink could be dripped onto a canvas using Foucault’s pendulum for an updated twist on Jackson Pollock. “There’s a mad-scientist spirit here infused with artistic inspiration,” says Carter, twenty-six, a “futurist” who rides a unicycle and plays the ukulele. “MASS is a Renaissance idea with high-tech applications.”

This privately funded, not-for-profit enterprise claims about 150 members, mostly in their twenties and thirties, with projects overseen by eight board members. The MASS Castleberry Hill headquarters—part studio, part laboratory—is furnished with kilns, lathes, and recording equipment as well as an oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, and even a DNA synthesizer. Later this year, experts plan to offer classes to the public, including Carter’s course on electronics for musicians.

“This equipment is so expensive that it’s not accessible to most people,” Carter says, adding that MASS leaders have researched open-source models and intellectual property rights in order to foster collaboration while safeguarding ideas. “We help by offering the know-how, the people, and the tools to bring an idea to life. The individuals involved source each other, and every party gains as a result.”

Look for an entertaining MASS demonstration at Scoutmob’s Halloween party at the Goat Farm. “We’ve figured out a way to simulate ‘singing thunder’ with compression waves, which will be played on a violin!” says Carter, sounding giddy and proud. “I don’t think of myself as an artist, but ask me a few years from now, and my answer might be different.”

This article originally appeared in our October 2013 issue.