Unpublished Interview for car lifestyle magazine
What was the inspiration for creating the Car Horn design?
Strangely like much of my work it was a response to an invitation I received. I was given a series of emotions that the car horns could address:
Ill or giving birth (your choice)
and follow these!
Please explain the philosophy behind the sounds you created?
I was conscious that in a time where we seem to lack power over our lives that customising our lives becomes ever more valuable. We've grown accustomed to this with mobile cell phones, setting up our own ringtones, etc, so why shouldn't a car have an audio personality too. I wanted it to be fun, imaginative, playful but serve a very practical purpose too. I also recalled that a local car where I live in London has the sound of a horse to replace the standard car horn sound so that was a positive starting point!
How was the idea manifested; in what form was it completed?
I was aware I couldn't use synthetic sounds or samples, but to focus on this very simple electromechanical device that uses the principle of electromagnetism to create noise, in the traditional way, so essentially I was looking into possible languages and phrases that the horns could express, in response to these themes of confusion, anger, and so on
It's important to remember that horns come in an endless variety of notes, or frequencies, all of which is determined by the flexibility of the diaphram; its physical size; the power of the electromagnet; the mass of the diaphram; mechanical arrangement of the switch contact; size and shape of the horn's case and a number of other contributing factors, so it's not an easy task to follow.
So I sampled original sounds of car horns digitally and then began to develop my own themes and possibilities within this 'horn language.'
Did you explore the state of the world's car horns, and what did you conclude about car horns today?
I'm a frequent flyer, always in different places in the world so began to recognise that in some countries use car horns in different frequencies, often mandated by the country themselves. At the most basic level too it's worth remembering that the larger the vehicle the lower the note of the horn, so juggernaughts have immense horn sounds whilst a sleek sports car has a higher pitched horn note. You can hear this in the "beep-beep" of Volkswagens and the French-horn type sounds from Cadillacs.
In my research too I found that most collector cars, at least those made before the 1970s, have two horns, a low-note and a high-note. It's this unique combination of these two notes that creates this distinctive sound of a particular car. Interestingly, larger cars always were equipped with horns that gave an overall lower frequency honk and small car horns were biased toward the higher frequencies.
I learnt that ultimately that there's a total lack of imagination these days towards designing the actual sound of the car.
How feasible is the widespread installation of your car horn sounds around the world?
One has to consider many issues, security and safety first of all, then the installation, the public impact, the noise pollution in the location, etc. I saw it more as an opportunity to explore possibilities within an everyday object that we almost take for granted. I mean, do you ever THINK about the car horn or others when you are driving? It's a utility but could offer so much more I felt.
What were the most difficult design challenges you encountered on the car horn project?
It's always a challenge trying to meet the imagination of a client but I felt this moved along very positively. I was never allowed to know WHICH car manufacturer was taking these sounds and developments as that would have influenced my choices I believe. It was hard to imagine how exactly this would play out too through the body of a car, how it would sound in various locations, situations, environments.
Please describe some responses you've had to your project.
As far as I've heard they've all been encouraging whilst being amused at the prospect. Can you imagine how my friends respond when you tell them what you are doing?!!;-)
Are you working on any other public alert/warning/alarm noise projects?
I've worked on a host of very bizarre projects - at present I've just completed consulting and sound-designing a major new product with Philips to be released very soon that will be quite revolutionary. Last year I developed sound for Future Acoustic LLP, a generative and reactive sound system that responds to the noise in the environment and produces music out of the noise around you, so traffic noise, rain or a crying baby could be read by this product and produce music in the process. I'm waiting for the day that it hears my car horn and see how they two worlds collide!
Please describe some of your most rewarding public space projects, i.e. the French morgue?
I've been fortunate to work on some quite extraordinary projects indeed- the French morgue was amazing, a work that is used everyday by people as a process of mourning in a public hospital. An environment that offers a positive energy to a traumatic situation, designing a space that people use to bid farewell to a loved one. Last year I designed a swimming pool and space in a public hospital in Sunderland for people with spinal and neural injuries that uses sound and light to enhance the healing experience. I'm currently developing work for a new public space in Luxembourg as well as sound-designing a very public institution in Coney Island NY.
What has surprised you and what have you learned while creating soundscapes for public places?
Well it's a constant learning process actually, on so many levels, trying to anticipate what someone might be searching for, learning to take risks when it's possible, projecting how the public will respond to the location, public planning issues, health and safety, the list is endless and is never finished!
What would you describe as your most innovative/challenging project to date?
The morgue project was the most difficult and took a year of blankly staring at a piece of paper trying to imagine what would be possible - it's such a very personal and emotive situation that you have to get it exactly right. I enjoy challenges though. I don't think I've ever taken an easy route through work and life :-)
What is your favourite piece, or pieces, of technology in your work as a sound artist?
This process of reductionism in recent years is very appealing, holding the world in the palm of your hand is simply extraordinary, to be able to speak, see or engage with anyone in the world at almost any point is just incredible and almost miraculous.