sponsored by Google
[Skills used: Electronic prototyping, 3D modeling, model building, CMF exploration. In collaboration with Morgan West]
Google Soundscape is a pair of headphones that aims to create a more humanistic way of listening to the world. Through simple sensing technology, the sound is placed in and around your environment, and blends the listener, the sound, and the greater soundscape into one seamless experience.
The headphones aimed for a more humanistic approach to materials, and so were made soft and comforting.
Although wireless, there are still cords. they function similar to buttons or dials for volume and track selection.
By dangling by your chest, the interaction mimics that of tugging at the tassels of your hoodie. In this way it feels natural and fidgety.
Through basic mapping sensors, the headphones are able to understand the
environment around the listener.
This information can be used to place audio in the world, to create an intimate experience.
Also, this spatial awareness allows you to not just block outside noise, but rather muffle the unpleasant sounds, and enhance the ones you enjoy.
Through technology and materials, the Soundscape headphones aim not just to facilitate listening, but to truly allow you to hear the world.
There were two things that really influenced the project. One, was the following quote by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
"Technology is progressing by itself. We feel possibilities. I don't want to go against the current. Still, I am concerned by a deficient technology, it absorbs me, and I wonder if new cultural currents could emerge from this deficiency"
- Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tokyo Melody
The other, was this photo from Google's "Softwear" installation at the Salone del Mobile in Milan.
The project began by exploring the idea of musicians playing the environment like an instrument.
Gloves were rigged with photo-sensors, routed through audio cables. From this, the user could move their hands around the world, and listen to the light.
As we talked to musicians though, we realized they weren't in need of a new instrument. Technology already allowed them to collaborate. But it also dehumanized the experience, and they lose the energy and humanity of really playing together.
The form took that of headphones. We saw there was a need for something to add humanism back into the technology of collaboration.
Rudimentary mockups were used to feel out the form and size.
Very careful attention was paid to ensure the shapes felt soft and natural. They were shaped by hand before being made digital.
Materials were chosen from the kinds used to make clothes. We dressed the ear cups in sweaters, and dresses, to make sure it felt welcome on your body.
By the end, we had piles of carved and printed prototypes, demonstrating our search for just the right shape.
We used our knowledge from early prototyping to create a virtual experience that demonstrated the headphone features of spatial audio.
What we wanted to demonstrate was how the Soundscape headphones could really create intimacy and warmth in digital collaboration and listening.
Google Soundscape is not just a tool for creating. Rather, it is a tool that facilitates creation. It allows for intimacy in conversation, clarity in discussion, and energy in collaboration.