Soundwall Makes Room in Technology for Art
By Sulagna Misra
“Why can't these smart devices, that we have all over our world, also be beautiful and design-oriented?” says David Hose, from Colorado, where his company Soundwall is based. Describing the inspiration behind Soundwall, he says “I needed a new speaker for my bedroom. And I started looking around, there's all these speakers around there, and they were all sort of…they just didn't make sense. And then the little ones all looked like pieces of electronics, just like an office TV in my bedroom.”
David was looking for something that hadn’t been invented yet. So, he invented it. Soundwall prints artwork directly onto flat panel aluminum speakers, creating a device intended to harmonize with your living space instead of clashing with it.
To him, that’s the natural evolution of technology. “In the beginning technology devices are expensive. They’re unique and kind of a point of pride, so they become kind of the centerpiece of spaces. But over time when they become more mainstream, and they fade into the background.”
One can’t help but think there’s an element of magic to it – of taking technology and having it fit seamlessly into your home. So far, Soundwall has developed two versions: Nova and Solstice. Nova allows you to control the music and add mood lighting directly from the Soundwall technology, while Solstice allows you to regularly switch out the art that the speakers display. On Nova, there’s an element called a Quick Play, where you can create personalized, readymade settings that combine mood lighting with a playlist. “You could imagine how over time it would become more responsive to you because it knows it's you,” adds Hose. “It would be great to be able to walk up to it and say, "Hey, this evening, I'm having a party."
It’s an element, he explains, of “the internet of things,” a term for current and ongoing technology changes focused on machine-to-machine communication. As technology forecaster and innovation expert Daniel Burrus says in Wired, “it’s going to make everything in our lives from streetlights to seaports ‘smart.’” Burrus points out that one of the big innovations of “the internet of things” is how sensors gather data in order to optimize user experience.
And when you consider Soundwall’s use in commercial and public spaces, you can really start to imagine what that means. “We have commercial customers for sort of the obvious things like in restaurants or bars,” says David. “They'll have their Soundwalls for music but also for the decoration. You walk up to the Soundwall and notice the light would go on. The Soundwall will sense you're there, and will say something like, "Hey Welcome to…wherever you are.'"
He also talks about using Soundwall in your hotel room. “I mean, why do you need a phone, in your hotel room? Why can't you just have like a Soundwall with a mic, just say "Hey I need Housekeeping to come.’"
However, don’t think because Soundwall might be appearing in hotel rooms that the art they offer for their speaker systems is in any way generic. It’s the technology that’s meant to fade into the background, not the art. In fact, David says one of the most important elements of Soundwall for him was how the technology attracted artists. “I believe that support any time you're trying to create something new, you want people to kind of lean in and fall in love and want to be part of it,” he says. The enthusiasm certainly shows; the art on the website it vibrant, intense, emotionally stirring. “I would have to say that most of the art that we have on Soundwall has come from artists coming to us and saying, ‘We like Soundwall. We'd like to work together.’”
It’s this element, rather than any curatorial sensibility, that has really defines the art Soundwall offers on the site. But that doesn’t mean that David doesn’t have an eye for it. “The first piece of art that I bought for my place was a work by [mid century Pop artist] Jasper Johns.” Specifically, Map 1961.”
In fact, David’s appreciation for art is related to his hopes for the future. “My hope is that ... and I'm an optimist, right ... so my hope is that we'll move to a new Renaissance.” David believes automation is the best way to achieve this. “Personally I believe that technology needs to stop depending upon human beings so much. We need some more automated technology. Us humans are going to get more comfortable with technology doing things for you,” he says. This would also prevent the hellish cycle where we’d have to keep getting retrained or learning new skills as our old technology habits become obsolete. “If we spend all of our time scrambling because we need a job when the jobs keep changing…You know, then we won't have time for anything.”
Instead, David imagines a future like our Renaissance past, “where cities became so wealthy that they could afford to spend money on the arts. So we saw this explosion of people who were kind of artisans and craftsmen and created this incredible media that was a big part of the Renaissance.”
“If we can unlock our creativity because robots are doing the mundane work,” says David “We can come up with a new level of exciting and interesting things.”