For better or worse, headphones are the defining spatial accessory of our time. No other piece of technology or fashion has redefined the etiquette of our public behaviour, our ability to strongly edit our surroundings using a single sense and the possibility of being alone in a crowd like a pair of earbuds.

And that’s the beauty of Space Here Becomes Sound, a Dutch Design Week installation produced jointly by Sonos, spatial storytellers Studio Lonk and sound designer Mark IJzerman: it’s urging us to make sound together, in public, once again.

Inspired by the soundscapes of the home – a place where music is usually consumed either privately or individually – the team came up with a mechanism that allowed visitors to shift a set of large concentric frames at will, triggering a nearly musical series of familiar-yet-unknown sound loops. Take it from us: as we have been socially retrained to make as little sound as possible in public – doe normaal is alive and well here in the Netherlands – the act of joining friends and strangers in discovering an aural home-away-from-home was at first awkward, then intriguing, then thrilling.

We spoke with Studio Lonk’s Anna Dekker and sound designer Mark IJzerman to discuss the origin of the selections, the importance of sound for storytelling of the colours of the HAY Sonos One Limited Edition Collection.

We might not have the same idea of what home sounds like. With that in mind, how did you pick the homescapes for this installation?
MARK IJZERMAN: I knew, from the beginning, that it couldn’t be just field recordings. I knew, from my practice, that it doesn’t work. If people only hear children playing or someone sitting on the couch reading a book, that wouldn’t convey the emotional content we were looking for. So we looked for musical analogies for those feelings.

Whose home is this?
MI: You’re going for an average that many different people can relate to, because people who come to Dutch Design Week are all sorts of types – there are, for example, people from Eindhoven and designers who lead a more Airspace kind of life [laughs]. That’s why the analogies help: children running around only works for a certain age range or for parents, for example. The actual sounds that we chose are open windows, dinner… things that a lot of people can relate to.

We all understand what home is, but it’s different for every person

How have people reacted to it?
ANNA DEKKER: The first layer was the physical one. We expected it to be busy, but it was even busier than we thought it would be, so we had groups of people waiting for their turn and it became an orchestra of strangers collaborating together.

The second layer has to do with the sounds and the associations they bring up. We all understand what home is, but it’s different for every person. This installation allows everyone to have a different interpretation, due to the way they experience each sound. We wanted to create a joyful associative thought process, because each person has a different image in their mind. It’s a difficult thing to put your finger on.

Headphones-on is our default mode at the office and commuting, and Sonos is a brand that is made for sound at home – open but private. Private sound is such a big part of our lives now that the first few seconds there I felt awkward. What if I mess up the melody and disturb someone?
MI: The location [at the Klokgebouw] is quite noisy, so it takes some time to understand what you’re doing. The primal action of pushing activates the sound, and then you start getting into it.

When people talk about augmented reality, they normally think in visual terms, but the Walkman was the first time we experienced augmented reality – you have this extra sonic layer that you put over reality. That changed in a big way our experience of moving about in the city. When we put our headphones on, that means we don’t like the sounds around us. It’s important to understand why that is, and this installation harkens back to that frame of thought – we are sharing a soundspace.

We are appealing to people’s imaginative capacities by using a soundscape to tell a story

Why do you think sound has become so important for us today? Just look at the second rise of podcasting.
AD: Podcasting has a storytelling power. I was reading a book to my nephew last night, and I remember my mum doing this when I was little. Our imagination would take us places. These books are good because everyone has their own vision of the characters and locations, but over time we are looking at movies… and storytelling has become visual. Podcasts help drive us back to our imaginative capacities.

So this particular installation is physical and spatial, without there being actual rooms. We are appealing to people’s imaginative capacities by using a soundscape to tell a story.

How did the specific colours of the HAY Sonos One Limited Edition Collection inspire the soundscapes?
AD: We took our interpretations of the colour names and translated those into rooms – the five available colours in the collection are Pale Yellow, Soft Pink, Vibrant Red, Forest Green and Light Grey. HAY didn’t develop their speakers to sit in a particular room in the house – that was Studio Lonk’s decision.

MI: The Soft Pink, for example, is related to the open window to the city. I went to Amsterdam, recorded its sounds and layered them on top of each other to represent its bristling life. You hear a tram and high heels on concrete. But recording live is not enough: with audio you have to spice it up. You need to have the HDR version of real-world audio. If you want people to relate to something, you have to lay it on thick – but I try to collage them so that it feels very natural, like something that could potentially happen.

The Vibrant Red, on the other hand, is about the lively home, as it’s the colour that stands out the most. That’s why it has very fast and lush sounds. And the Light Grey represents the resonating metal of the bathroom – we figured dripping water would be irritating. Most of the sounds in there are about five minutes long and one is longer than each other, so they shift over one another in a polyrhythmic way – it will only be the same once every 500 times.

Space Here Becomes Sound is on display at Hall 1 in the Klokgebouw until October 28, during Dutch Design Week.