Ambient Audio

In the article Ambient Signifiers at Boxes and Arrows, Ross Howard describes how the Tokyo rail system uses audio cues to help folks reach the right destination. While the article isn’t focused on ambient audio—Ross only uses it as an example of ambient design possibilities—it got me thinking about what’s happening in the ambient audio world currently. (And to be honest, consider this a contrived attempt to reference old archive posts.)

Nike & Apple are bringing together shoes and iPods. So a sensor in your running shoe wirelessly spews out data that a receiver in your iPod sucks in. Based on that data, your iPod can interrupt your listening with spoken feedback, how long you’ve been running, your pace, calories burned, etc. When will the iPod be smart enough to dynamically change your playlist to reflect your workout? There’s a notion of a “Power Song” to help “kick a workout to the next level,” but that’s a manual thing.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about electric cars and the sounds they make (or don’t make.) There’s an opportunity here to rethink the use of aural cues in personal transportation. For example, what can be done with branding? Think about what Harley Davidson did with their engines or Mercedes and their satisfying slam of the car door? Electric cars are silent. How will that contribute to the brand? Soothing, peaceful, gentle. Or sneaky, mute and reserved?

Now for the archives. Anyone remember Boodler? It’s a tool for creating “soundscapes—continuous, infinitely varying streams of sound.” The author adds a note saying he got it working on a PDA for “permanent mobile soundscape for your lifestyle” which reminded me of that Family Guy episode where Peter had his own theme music everywhere he went.

Perhaps a little more practical is Peep: The Network Auralizer, used for “monitoring your network with sound.” The project proposal provides an overview of why sound is a useful tool for real-time monitoring of complex systems. In fact, they just take it for granted, “Why shouldn’t we incorporate our other senses into the process?” Yes, why not?!

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