Sonos' pop-up Studio in New York reminds me of summer camp, where you were never sent home without something to show your parents. Except instead of a sculpture made from ice-cream sticks, Sonos sent me home with a speaker I built myself.
Sonos is a wonderful wireless audio system that we've loved for years. Through October 5th, the company is hosting Sonos Studio in New York, basically a huge advertisement full of awesome art, music, and tech. The company was kind enough to give us a sneak peak at the fun.
Speaker building workshop
OK, so I didn't exactly build the speaker from scratch. The driver is the actual three-inch component from Sonos' excellent Play:1 speaker, so it's not like I coned the driver or attached the magnet. I did construct a cardboard enclosure around the driver and attached the wires, which required a little glue gun action and some wire crimping. Nothing fancy, but enough to give a set of unskilled hands a taste for the tech.
The speaker doesn't sound awesome, by the way. Not surprising since the enclosure is made of cardboard and not MDF.
This being an "art and technology" event, of course, Sonos added layers of customisation to the process. The folks at the 3D-modelling software company AutoDesk laser engraved the words "Yay Gizmodo" onto the cardboard in two ways. (You think of something better on the fly, OK?) First, the actual waveform of the sound it makes when I say "Yay Gizmodo," and then the words themselves.
Sounds of New York City
Besides the speaker workshop, the Play:1 was also used to make a large interactive map called "Sounds of New York City", by collaborators Swedish Creative Agency Perfect Fools, and musicians Daniel Kessler and Joseph Fraioli of Big Noble.
The map consists of 180 exterior shells of the Play:1 that have each been filled with LEDs and loaded on little stepping motor platforms that can move in and out. The wall of LED-filled shells forms a large image in much the way huge LED billboards do, such as the famous ones of Piccadilly Circus do. Each Play:1 is basically a pixel, and together the lights form a stylised map of the five boroughs of New York, which you interact with using a Kinect camera.
As you wave your hand over each of 41 different parts of the city, a wall of Play:1 speakers plays back a song relevant to that spot on the map. So when I waved my hand over Bushwick, I heard Umi Says by Mos Def, who grew up there. Each motion activates a change in the map as well: the Play:1 enclosures slide around back and forth and flash like a nightclub. (You can see all the songs plotted on a Google map here.)
The overall show has the feeling of a giant promo, but between the art installations and the musical performances, Sonos does an admirable job of making the marketing an easier pill to swallow. As brands such as Red Bull have learned in recent years, marketing doesn't have to be the evil process of jamming product down people's throats. You can simultaneously promote yourself, make cool experiences for customers, and get artists paid all at once. [Sonos Studio]
Photos by Nick Stango