Ambient sound from vehicle traffic to overheard conversations is an essential component of the urban experience, yet we tend to filter much of it out as we go through our daily lives. While there is a fine line between information and noise, what sits at the middle is rich with meaning and narrative. In an effort to help communicate its significance, designers are experimenting with light as a visual tool for conveying the physical properties of sound.
Whether taking place at an art gallery in the Netherlands or under a noisy bridge in Brooklyn, New York, PSFK Labs has noticed a trend we are calling Sound Syncing that explores how these synced lighting and sound projects help people experience places and the people within them in new and engaging ways. By visually capturing the physical qualities of sound these displays highlight local aspects of a place, tell compelling stories and bring people together around shared, interactive experiences. Brett Renfer, Senior Technologist with architecture and design firm Rockwell Group, echoed this sentiment during our conversation, saying “I think reacting to ambient noise in a cityscape really gets people to think about their environment in a really different way. I think light is a great way to connect with because it’s so immediate.”
Fiet is an interactive sculpture that visualizes the emotional impact of movement. Created by Dutch design studio Toer, the object is built out of hundreds of cones which exaggerate the motion of the surface. Based on the programmed effect of sounds surrounding the object, the points of the cones move closer to each other or expand. The sculpture becomes rigid when there is a sudden noise, but returns to a relaxed state when the sound dissipates. The result is an installation that resembles a living organism, responding and reacting to the noises of its surroundings. Wouter Widdershoven, Studio Toer’s co-owner, explained, “Light is a fundamental need. We are used to fire, a form of dynamic light.”
In another example of this trend, Silent Lights is a soon-to-debut installation in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York that will capture the noise pollution from a busy underpass and convert those sounds into an artistic lighting display. At night, the LED lights will pulsate in waves, translating the traffic noise into bursts of color, with the intensity of each color increasing as the sounds heighten. Created by The Artist Build Collaborative in response to noise complaints from the neighborhood, the project will consist of six colored rectangular gates made from steel and aluminum that are able to capture the sound and convert them into colored lights. “This project is a commentary on urban living and the challenges we face as people who live and work in loud, crowded, congested cities,” says Shagun Singh, a c0-creator of the project at the The Artist Build Collaborative and Principal at Urban Matter Inc. The human element of the project is key: “It offers light, momentary change and a flood of movement isolating itself from the constant throngs of moving vehicles. However, it is the experience of the pedestrian walking through the site everyday that is the focus of our project.”
See a video describing the concept from their Kickstarter campaign below:
Sound and light installations like Silent Lights and Fiet point to the novel ways that light can be synced with sound to highlight local aspects of a place. We may expect to see more light sources which automatically react to the tone and rhythm of music or sounds to seamlessly build mood and atmosphere into a public venue or space. Or in a more practical application, lighting outside of bars, and other public areas could respond and react to indicate if noise has gone above a certain decibel levels outside certain hours.
Silent Lights and the Fiet sculpture also fall into a larger theme we are calling Illuminated Expression, which explores how scalable lighting technologies are making it possible for individuals, brands and entire cities to visually express their identity and imagination and communicate their vision to the wider community.
The Future of Light series explores light’s potential to improve lives, build communities, and connect people in new and meaningful ways. Brought to you in partnership with Philips Lighting, a full report is available as an iOS and Android app or as a downloadable PDF.