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 popsicle-stick sculpture, 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.
OK, so I didn't exactly build the speaker I was sent home from scratch. The driver is the actual 3-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 attach the wires, which required a little hot 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 especially surprising since the enclosure is made of cardboard and not MDF.
This being an "art and technology" event, of course, Sonos added layers of customization to the process. The folks at the 3D modeling 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.
Besides the speaker workshop, the Play:1 was also used to make a 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 which 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 a huge Times Square LED billboard does. Each Play:1 is basically a pixel, and together the lights form a stylized map of the 5 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 as diverse as Red Bull and, er, Gizmodo 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