When I got assigned the task to come up with three concept ideas for a rather extensive project in very short time, I started off with experiencing a classic case of blank page syndrome (which is exactly what it sounds like). Even creativity sometimes needs a little nudge, and for someone who knows the sweet scent of procrastination, time pressure might just be the uncomfortable companion that was needed. I spent most my free minutes contemplating, letting my thoughts go looking for new leads, asking myself the question – if I can do anything, what do I want to do? In the end, my brainstorming session was most fruitful on bike rides and right before falling asleep. In the following paragraphs I will introduce the first two of the three concepts that got shaped in those moments.
Live Surround Controller
One activity that gives me the feeling to connect to a lot of the incredible music out there beyond consciously listening or dancing to it, is to play and mix it in a certain context or situation. DJing can be so many things and be done in so many different ways, which makes it much more individual than it might seem at first. When I went to a “3D-sound”-themed club night in the Netherlands some years ago, I had huge expectations at first. However, I left a little disappointed – the surround effects were barely noticeable and only occurred very rarely. That is not necessarily surprising in hindsight; most songs are produced only for stereo systems. At that specific event, a drum machine was used additionally to the DJ setup to add surround effects to sounds that were not originally part of the songs. With more ambisonics and surround systems becoming available in clubbing locations, I got inspired to think of ways to make it easier for DJs (or live performances) to use such systems.
In a setting of playing music to people, I see controlling ambisonics and surround effects as an additional dimension in the range of available tools. One could suddenly fade in a song from the “lower left back corner”. This would additionally make it easier for people to stop to always face the DJ, something that has been bugging a number of DJs and event organizers (e.g. see this interview by DVS1).
One of the most important goals for the design of a device that allows a performer to play stereo tracks using surround effects would be a rather simplistic control mechanism, that integrates well into the performance flow. This makes this project very interaction-design heavy, with much of the work flowing into the design of the interface itself. However, creating such a controller brings also many other challenges with it, that it counts to solve. Low frequencies can not be panned across the room too much, since this might quickly cause phase inconsistencies, depending on the room and system. There also needs to be a dynamic solution to work with different amounts of channels. All in all, this is a very interesting and viable concept for me, however, for the moment it might be too electronics- and interaction-design emphasized, which is not necessarily the focus of the upcoming project.
As someone who sees the act of consciously listening to music as a form of meditation, I tend to get pulled into the idea of experiencing music in various settings that allow me to be fully guided by sounds, but might also stimulate my other senses without creating a sensory overload. Have you ever had a shower in the dark accompanied by a mystical ambient soundscape? This inspired me to want to create a carefully curated multi-sensory experience, either acting just as that, an experience, or even as a place to fully relax and introspect.
I would want water to be a part of such an experience, and I got further inspired by the concept of a float tank, a bathtub with a lid, filled with water at body temperature and enough dissolved salt to make one float without effort. The lid is then closed, creating a pitch black and soundless space, an experience of sensory deprivation. While sensory deprivation is not necessarily what I am aiming for with my concept, such a float tank would create an excellent environment for my plans. I would want to work with very subtle changes of light and sound, eventually adding a component of interaction, like alignment of the soundscape with ones pulse, and thereby creating a unique experience for every visitor. As much as I would like to work on such an experience, unfortunately the feasibility is very limited, for the lack of a float tank, or the huge effort to build something akin myself.