'Soundobject': Interactive Objects Examine the Medium of Sound
The exhibition Soundobject showcases the outcomes of a collaboration between Design Products and Information Experience Design students. Developed in partnership with Sonos, the project challenged students to work in small groups to create ‘sound objects’, which use sound to explore the interactions between people, objects and the environments they inhabit.
The outcomes on display investigate the role listening plays within different social contexts, from workouts at the gym to strolls through the city. The students considered the way sound is perceived, as well as the properties of materials and technologies which can convey or create sound. The diverse objects they have designed act to enhance, augment or disrupt our experiences of sound.
Whym App is a mobile phone app that reveals live music concerts occurring in proximity to the user as they travel through a city. The app delivers short music clips from bands or orchestras playing in nearby venues, alongside providing the opportunity to purchase tickets. Through offering these snippets of sound not only does the app inform users of nearby events, it also transforms the act of traversing the city into an exploration of a rich soundscape.
Another project that lends itself to the public performance of music is XOXX Composer, a drum machine which works through the placement of magnets on a series of revolving wheels. While the design is still in a nascent stage, future research may result in a large-scale interactive version or the integration of the machine with other instruments during live performances.
One group of students took a playful approach to the brief, creating Ear-dar, a low-tech private communication system to be used in loud public spaces. Rather than facilitating the creation of sounds, it works by isolating the listener from any background noise. The device, which consists of a tube, ear protectors and funnel, allows for even the slightest whisper to be heard privately. Reminiscent of childhood games, its simplistic construction explores the intimacy of listening with undivided attention.
Another work with childhood associations is a bamboo climbing-frame, Sonic Motion. Discovering that the human body and bamboo are both capable of conveying electric currents, the students have created a structure that acts as an antenna to detect human body movement. Through interacting with the structure users cause instant sonic feedback, allowing sound to be created in a fully embodied way.
Physical interaction of a different kind is encouraged by Sonic Bells, an exercise system involving kettle bells. Smart phones inserted into the base of the bell can be programmed to perform a range of functions. For individuals they act as a fitness instructor, letting the user know if they are preforming an exercise correctly or creating changes in tone or pitch as repetitions of a movement build, encouraging users to hit their targets. The design also aids group exercise; each kettle bell can be programmed to make a different sound, and therefore synchronised movement becomes a way of creating a collaborative composition. The design takes advantage of the ability of human sound perception to isolate specific sounds amongst a cacophony, but also indicates the power of sound to bring people together.
The struggle for control of a communal sound system within a social setting is explored through Dial Player. The act of plugging a smart phone or MP3 player into a set of speakers is replaced by the movement of round dials towards the centre of a circular surface. These disks, which resemble playing counters, each represent a user's playlist and can be patiently lined up or swept aside in order to prioritise one playlist over another.
Whilst many of the designs reveal or demand a physical interaction, The Translation of Sound transforms the aural into the visible. Strings attached to a series of speaker cones vibrate as sound waves travel through them, creating a shimmering, fractured surface. The moving images that are projected onto this screen become abstracted and distorted, whilst the sound itself is made visible. In this, like many of the designs, the students explore and expose the entangled relationships between the senses.