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Floating sphere records and replays public space sounds


March 7, 2014

Space Replay is a floating sphere that records and replays the sounds around it

Space Replay is a floating sphere that records and replays the sounds around it

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Transitional public spaces, like car parks and stairwells, often have unusual sound signatures designed to facilitate movement. Francesco Tacchini, Julinka Ebhardt and Will Yates-Johnson have created a project to explore this very phenomenon. Space Replay comprises a floating sphere that moves around its space and replays the sounds it picks up after a short delay.

The project was a side collaboration between two departments at the Royal College of Art. It was a response to a brief that asked how could sonic objects mediate between people, technology and places.

Tacchini and his collaborators wanted to look at the acoustic properties of transitional public spaces, such as lifts, stairs, tunnels and car parks. They defined two types of sound relevant to such space – ambient sounds that are natural or byproducts of localized activity (like traffic), and sounds that are intentionally designed and implemented, such as a lift arrival bell.

"To explore the relationship between how and where people experience these sounds we needed a tool – a digital or physical object – that could augment or disrupt that experience," Tacchini tells Gizmag. "A tool to manipulate sounds by either time delay, echo, live transposition or transmission, amplification or pitch."

Following a process of research, the team felt that the object would need to be visible and constantly present within the selected spaces. " I jokingly proposed that the it should float, started researching about lifting gas and levitation methods and made a working prototype, an air filled sphere attached to the ceiling," Tacchini explains.

After working on some prototypes, a finalized design was created. A battery-powered Arduino, an Adafruit Wave Shield and a small speaker were hacked together to record and playback audio on-the-fly. The components were vacuum-formed in a plastic cone so as to enhance the sounds produced and protect the balloon from the wires and PCB edges.

The final design weighed 120 g (4.2 oz) and the balloon was filled with enough helium to be able to rise up and hover. The whole project took about two weeks to complete.

The video below shows the sphere moving around a space.

Source: Royal College of Art

About the Author
Stu Robarts Stu is a tech writer based in Liverpool, UK. He has previously worked on global digital estate management at Amaze and headed up digital strategy for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). He likes cups of tea, bacon sandwiches and RSS feeds. All articles by Stu Robarts

Wow, that's awesome. They've managed to create something so strange in its effect to pedestrians and described by esoteric sound engineering terms that I'm not even sure how to react to it.

Even after watching the video, I'm unsure of which sounds originated with either spatial or temporal proximity to the befuddled transitioning people since the noises intentionally gave a sense of disconnectedness from both.

Furthermore, since all of the spaces shown (in the video) appeared to be highly echonic naturally, making one of the device's primary functions to augment that already high degree of echo seems almost cruel, or at least purposely confusing.

The Space Replay flowed from one of the artist's joking comments about floating. The fact that the final design was mostly unimpeded by practical or engineering constraints after this original conjuring and since it seems to do precisely what was imagined is quite impressive. Good job on that, bringing such a concept to fruition. Nevertheless, I'm more struck by its oddness.

Scientists agree that valuable knowledge comes from controlled experiments. However, I understand that this was the creation of an artist. Since it seems like the furthest thing possible from a controlled experiment, what actually came of this so-called exploration of that interaction? I'd love to know. What did they learn?

It seems more like a prototype from Professor Moriarty with its suspicious floating behavior, menacing blackness, and fiendish emanations of digitally engineered mind-control.

Erik Wilson

Neat. Anyone get flashbacks of the 1960's tv series, The Prisoner? "That would be telling. We want information… information… in formation. "

Jeff Michelson

Perhaps I missed something in the story.

Other than Helium for lift it appears to have some kind of controlled directional navigation and propulsion.

Was it simply drifting in ambient air currents or was someone doing creative editing on the video?

I am more interested in the level flight and propulsion than the audio and social parts of the project.

Anyone have more info about this? Thanks.


Had the same thought, galaxydrifter. How is it propelled?

The simplest way would be a fishing line.

Stupid thought but what would happen if you had a propeller inside a balloon (ducking for cover as I say it).

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