Fine collection of curious sound objects, everyday things that sounds unexpectedly

Georg Reil

The sounds of everyday objects can be quite extraordinary at times. The din of a pan, the hum of a refrigerator or the barely audible metallic rattle of a neon light tube cooling down can provide attentive listeners with surprising aesthetic experiences. But in other cases ordinary things can simply sound boring. George Reil and Kathy Scheuring have decided to construct new and unexpected acoustic identities for standard items. Referencing Pierre Shaffer’s idea of the “objets sonores”, the two young German communication designers from the University of Applied Sciences of Würzburg-Schweinfurt (Georg Reil and Kathy Scheuring) have created what they call a “fine collection of curious sound objects“. At first glance the items resemble a number of exhibits from an industrial design show; the elegant black finish gives their exterior form an iconic quality that detaches them from their former use. Upon closer inspection, however, conspicuous ethernet ports reveal the mutant nature of the pieces. They are hybrid artifacts enhanced with the established formula of physical computing: Arduino and Processing. Each object has a special ability, as in classic fairy tales where voices are captured in magic boxes and apples can sing. Here we have a leather bag that can carry voices, a bottle of laundry detergent which sings like a theremin, an old coffee grinder that records and plays back samples at different speeds when it’s cranked, and a metal bucket that releases them when it’s tipped over. The actions carried out by these devices are quite familiar; it’s the results that startle. As in Graham Pullin’s “museum of lost interactions” there appears to be a desire to mediate relations between humans and computers by tapping into a “heritage that is older and broader than the history of the personal computer”. The choice to invest the objects with unusual auditory outputs creates perceptual discrepancies that remind us of those practices employed by cinema directors and foley artists in surrealist movies and slapstick comedies. The first piece in the collection, a matchbox that makes the sound of a clock, could have easily found a place in Jaque’s Tati “Playtime”. The development of embedded technologies has made it possible to shift these displacement methods from the realm of representation and virtuality to the physical world. While it might be a good opportunity for sound designers, hopefully laundry detergent containers won’t start addressing customers from supermarket shelves anytime soon.

Matteo Marangoni