City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Making the inaudible audible invisibly

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Great post from Chris Heathcote on filesharing on the hoof, as wifi-enabled music devices automatically swap data in the streets.

"(C)opying at higher speeds than ever with our friends, our friends of friends, people we walk past in the street. It’s not about downloading any more, it’s about synching … (E)nough people in the street use walkmans, iPods, portable CD players, but these are the hardcore, those that need music all day long. Imagine if they converted to this new wi-fi reality. For those that just want background music, you could built a more lightweight player, for those not really into music as much, that could download the song that others are listening to in the time it takes to walk past them, play it, delete it. Instant psychogeographical radio."

Chris notes there’s a few (ahem) design issues to resolve, but:

"(R)ating is just about there, recommendations not quite so, privacy and trust systems a few years out (predictably, I’d say link it to your mobile address book), autodiscovery and autonetworking pretty much usuable."

But it’s a great vision nonetheless. As Chris intimates, the city is full of sounds, many of them inaudible – or rather, audible only within range of the listener’s headphones. Connecting these devices together, invisibly ironically, would make the inaudible audible. Walking down a street, with its usual sensation of audio-visual bombardment, would create a new level of information density – almost akin to a super-high-speed drive around London, constantly retuning the car radio to pirate stations. The rating would be key, in terms of a pleasurable listening experience – but the delight of being inadvertently and randomly offered a song you didn’t know you wanted would be a fabulous addition to the serendipity of the urban experience. Maybe if one linked it to reactive smart clothes (like the ‘brain coats’ at the blur building), you could visibly indicate the various donors and receptors in crowds, jackets glowing orange, say, to indicate an agreeable exchange. Jeez, Chris comes up with something almost plausible, and I end up with glowing bloody jackets …

Antimega: MP3 jukebox mating

Related (vaguely): The way you can tell another iPod user by the white headphones – generally we tend not to acknowledge each other, in the way VW Beetle or 2CV drivers sometimes do, with a wink of the headlamps or a chirp of the horn. An inadvertantly (?) brilliant bit of brand design … I’m sure the white headphones/lead came from an extension of the iPod body, rather than a conscious attempt to demarcate the headphones in order to visually denote the brand. Given that the iPod itself is generally stuffed away (for reasons of urban security and portability), the headphones are the most visible aspect of the whole experience.

Related again: Brian Eno (I think in his Swollen Appendices book) had an idea for extending the ‘range of expression’ the automobile horn was capable of. Such that you could send signals, aurally via the horn playing different tones/short melodic bursts, out into the street, upon recognising a friend and acknowledging that, or a similar car, or expressing irritation, or indicating other more ambient concerns ("I’m tired, are you?", "It’s hot", "My team won the match" etc.)


2 responses to “Making the inaudible audible invisibly”

  1. Chris Avatar

    The white headphone lead is interesting. Other manufacturers, of both headphones and personal audio, are starting to bring out white versions. Conversely, there were stories of iPod owners using black headphones, as thieves were targetting those upscale more-money-than-sense white headphone owners…
    In other wearable audio news, I’m trying (in vain) to get hold of this Gravis backpack, that lets you put your audio player safely in the bag, and has a headphone jack built into the shoulder strap. Nice.


  2. andrew Avatar

    I’ve always wanted a car horn that was more expressive, particularly for those “sorry, didn’t mean that” moments, or “hey over there, it’s me in this car, I know you.”


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