RainSound Experience

Seattle, Washington

Responding to the “Design Change” theme of the 2016 Seattle Design Festival, 26 teams created interactive pavilions for the 2-day Block Party held in Occidental Park, ranging from whimsical expressions of form and materiality, to experimentation with technology, to conversation starters about housing and environmental issues. Designers from LMN contributed 4 projects, each working in collaboration with a multi-disciplinary team of designers and builders. Below, Chris Martin discusses the making of RainSound Experience — an instrument that creates rhythmic drum music from the collection of rainwater. Also check out Kaleidosculpture, Grover, and REVOLUTION in this series.

Describe the concept of the piece in your own words.

RainSound Experience was created to explore how the movement of water could create a unique soundscape that would provoke the viewer to rethink what is possible with water. The main function of the installation is to collect rainwater and deposit it to a storage tank below.  The movement of the water from the top to bottom is where the possibilities of a new experience occur.

Sounds emanate from the installation from the careful dripping of water into modified pipes. The water follows specific rules when it drips which results in steady blocks of rhythmic drums. The flow of water can be controlled thus altering the rate and duration these sounds occur resulting in a soundscape that slides in and out of syncopation to create an infinite permutation of musical drum arrangements.

The ways in which we encounter water, whether it be through pipes, in underground tubes, or in our faucet was the inspiration behind the aesthetics of the installation.  It was important that the work reuse everyday materials to emphasize the portability of the idea that our current methods of using water can be altered to create something new.  The images the installation conjured; a still, a filtration system, etc. allows the viewers to recognize more potentials than I designed for, thus helping to open up a conversation about what should be possible with a new appreciation for water.

What was your favorite part of the project?

Most of the fabrication of the project was completed a month prior to the Seattle Design Festival in which it was showcased, however the most exciting parts to the process were the numerous successful and failed experiments that happened much early on. Early into the research I was exposed to the mechanics of fluids, focusing on pressure, surface tension, volume, and weight distribution. Some of these were researched more traditionally through textbooks and articles, but most of the knowledge was gleaned from physically interacting with water though mockups, and prototypes.  All of the experiments tried to innovate on a simple theme of water energy being used to make sound, and I think the combination of lessons learned played the biggest part in its success.

What was the worst part, were you ever nervous putting this together?

The sonic component was the most important to the project so it informed most of the design strategies used.  It was easy enough to test the sonic impact of a single part of the installation, but anything learned from this test would be incomplete because it was not being observed as a smaller part of a larger experience. Throughout the design I was forced to make untested decisions that would ultimately determine the success of the project.  Questions I was forced to contend with but could not directly answer throughout the process were: Would the instruments sound good together? Would the water collect and disperse at the correct rate? Would the sound be loud enough to enjoy?  With every question I could not answer, there was three or four more that I could, so it kept me moving forward. I think ultimately, these unknowns were what kept me motivated to continue searching for better solutions, and after 8+ months of design research, prototyping, and fabrication, the joy I felt when all of the pieces came together as expected was a complete relief.  It wasn’t until I was hearing the experience for the first time that I realized how nervous I really was.

What is one thing you hope people get out of experiencing the installation?

From the beginning the installation has always sought to remain sustainable by reusing water to create a unique sonic experience.  This was meant to get people thinking about how we use water, and how the largest efforts in water sustainability are often hidden from us. I want people to realize that collecting, or filtering, or moving water can be a sought after public display that is as much about activating our urban environment as is preserving our water ecosystem.

What will you take away from this process?

I think that the positive response that I received is attributable largely to the fact that installation was interactive and allowed for certain levels of discovery. Moving forward as I create installations for festivals I am going to ensure that the public can engage with and contribute to the final product. By letting the viewer learn and take part in a work of art, I believe that he or she becomes more invested and is much more likely to reflect on that experience at a later date.