Create your own soundscape with hidden sounds of your environment.

*A collaboration with Duncan Wilson.

OTTO (derived from Greek for 'ear') is a device that makes everyday hidden sounds audible.

This is achieved via a sensitive contact microphone that senses weak vibrations and plays them as a sound through an integrated speaker. OTTO can be positioned on almost any surface through a combination of suction and magnets. A sound-filter dial for amplifying or suppressing certain frequencies allows the user to focus on and isolate the most interesting certain aspect of the hidden sound. OTTO's industrial design allows for versatility and intuitive use by achieving a balance between simple, understandable functions and controls and the flexibility to adapt to different input sources.

By placing several OTTOs on different objects, one can amplify those hidden sounds and play them back simultaneously in the room. Besides the exploratory aspect of this concept, this is analogous to sampling different audio tracks by a DJ to create a music track. By doing so, one can create a new sonic experience and a form of ambient music appreciation, thereby utilising our space as a multidirectional audio platform.

Due to the nature of the sounds to be listened to (extremely low intensity and very localized) conventional microphone technology is not adequate to capture them. Instead contact microphones, similar to the ones attached on acoustic guitars, offer the locality and precision required. Such microphones are essentially piezoelectric transducers which are pressure sensitive; they sense minute vibrations from the object’s surface and convert them into an electrical signal picked up by a pre-amp.

OTTO itself can be attached on a variety of surfaces through a suction cup which is at the rear of the device. The suction cup is activated by lowering the sensor arm 90 degrees towards the surface. This is supplemented with a couple of magnets for attachment on metallic ones.

OTTO's controls are intuitive and similar to classic audio equipment. They consist of just a volume and a frequency filter dial.

The filter technology used diverges from classic equalizer systems and may allow for total suppression of unwanted frequencies and noise, hence giving the listener an experience of unusual enhanced hearing and sensitivity. Thereby, one can explore the sounds to 'tune in' to specific frequencies and rhythms.

BACKGROUND

Our research focused into theories of sound perception and experimental music as manifested by the Italian Futurists like Luigi Russolo and his Art of Noise Menifesto, whose philosophies embraced the sounds of everyday activity as the relevant form of music for a modern society.

Our research into the relationship between sound, space and environment is exemplified at The Philips Pavilion in Brussels, designed by Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis being one of the first buildings designed around audio and multimedia experience. The Pavilion hosted a performance by avant-garde composer Edgard Varese and was influential in our understanding of that relationship.

Eventually, the work of sound artists like Kaffee Matthews and Crisitna Kubisch inspired us to understand ambient noise as being both a form of information, appreciation and musical composition. We were also inspired by their low-tech approach and tools for capturing those hidden noises.

We followed similar low-tech approaches for recording sounds during OTTO's development, by assembling combinations of contact microphones and preamps to evaluate the components' sensitivity, frequency response and immunity to external noises.

Similarly, several audio filtering methods were evaluated, from the classic 10-band equalizer to more sophisticated custom made systems. We found inspiration in the aesthetics and function of audio equipment and the simple and honest approach of designers like Dieter Rams and Marco Zanuso. We focused on the concept of input and output, using characteristics of audio devices such as microphones and headphones to communicate the principle of OTTO through its design.

©2020 Manolis Kelaidis

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