Noisolation, low-tech augmented listening apparel


Since embedded audio processing gained attention during the years preceding the introduction of smartphones, a number of projects have been developed that employ computational means to establish new relationships between mobile audio devices and the acoustic environment. A classic among these is Noah Vawter’s Ambient Addition, a device, presented as an alternative to the iPod, which employs real-time DSP filtering to transform noises from the surroundings into music. By channeling the processed sounds into the user’s headphones, it created a link between the “personal sound bubble” provided by mobile music players and nearby events. Tackling the same problem from a different angle, sound artist Alex Braidwood more recently presented an invention that is so technically simple it could have been produced a century ago. Noisolation is a wearable mechanical resonator that allows the sound of the environment to be filtered acoustically before reaching the ears. It consists of two copper pipes protruding from a pair of noise protection earmuffs. Valves fitted on the metal conducts open and close rhythmically, affecting the cutoff frequency over time. Beside its technical features, the most striking aspect of this contraption is its curious visual appearance, not so dissimilar from the rudimentary and mysteriously fascinating acoustic locators employed for aircraft detection by pre-WWII armies. Like the former, Noisolation literally presents itself as a medium that extends the human body. As a low-tech relative of its computational counterparts, it also shows how sometimes a successful, but visually inexpressive media-design concept, can be given a highly iconic form. There is a qualitative difference involved in the process that becomes especially evident when the device is worn in the open spaces of the city, effectively turning the act of listening from a private activity into a public statement. To the point that even a regular television reporter can be compelled to discuss the noises of the city in terms of aesthetic experiences.

Matteo Marangoni