Bio-mimicry in Amsterdam

Trust someone like the dutch to do things just that little bit better than we seem to be able to in the UK. For instance, on a visit this week to Amsterdam I noticed the simple but incredibly effective audio signals they employ at pedestrian crossings, that coincide with the usual visual cues.

A short click, designed to cut through traffic noise, speeds and slows to indicate when you can cross and when the time is running out. Designed as an aid for blind people, the audio alerts are the primary signal that sighted people respond to as well, above the visual cues. You notice everyone quickening their pace across the road as the short clicks change rhythm.

There is a nice bit of bio-mimicry at work in the design of these clicks too. The Deathwatch beetle has evolved over millions of years to produce a similar click, which it uses to communicate to others across long distances and through extraneous ambient noise. Those responsible for the Dutch crossing sound probably didn't directly use the Deathwatch beetle as inspiration, but we should not forget that humans are part of nature also. It's only natural for us to develop similar sounds for a similar purpose. Perhaps instead of bio-mimicry, it's bio-symmetry (or something similar).

This use of audio signals by the Dutch is a perfect example of how we should be thinking about sound as part of urban transformation. Integrating good design into the city soundscape that communicates information efficiently and non-intrusively.

Amsterdam pedestrian crossing signal

Deathwatch beetles communicating


Audio Branding Congress

Just want to say a massive thank you to the Audio Branding Academy for inviting me to speak at this years congress in NYC, and to Jenny Karakaya and the Expansion Team crew for making it such a smooth and welcoming affair.

Every last person I met was amazingly friendly and passionate about their work. The day was fascinating on many levels.

There was such an overwhelming response towards my talk from everyone. I want to thank you all for your kind words.

I've uploaded a pdf of my presentation below, just in case anyone wants to have another read through.

"Contours & Conventions" by Russell Jones


"Selfridges is making history by launching a revolutionary window display for its 2011 
Christmas season that sees the run of its Oxford Street windows play re-engineered 
carols without the need for loudspeakers or sound-preserving booths, as is the case 
when such an initiative is attempted by stores around the world. Each window is 
effectively turned into an enchanting and oversized music box. The global innovation, 
which is taking Selfridges a big step further into the future of window displays, is the 
brainchild of London-based creative outfit Condiment Junkie."
- Selfridges press release

We were given the challenge of creating a sound installation to compliment the theme of ‘White’ this christmas. The Selfridges white is very pure, clean and contemporary, but also comforting, safe, traditional and magical.

We first looked at how sound and language have crossovers - words like ‘shimmering’, ‘bright’, ‘crystal’ - are all used as sonic descriptions as well as visual.

We looked into what objects create these bright, crystal sounds - a chandelier in the wind, whispers, the sharp percussive ring of bells - and then to music boxes.

The sound of a music box is comforting, warm and calming. It is also crystal clear, clean, crisp.

Music boxes are associated with memories and fantasies - often built in to jewelry boxes or carousels with pictures of loved ones. They are often accompanied by a twirling ballerina, or magical snow globes.

This idea of the cyclic carousel also interested us - used as a metaphor for life, special annual occasions like Christmas mark another turn of the wheel.

Christmas carols are also often based on cyclic melodies - the word Carol comes from the old French word Carole or Carola, a type of circular dance from the 12th and 13th centuries.

We began deconstructing and re-imagining christmas carols. Using the medieval chord patterns on which traditional carols and wassailing songs are based, we created pieces that are simultaneously familiar and that ring true with the traditional sounds of Christmas, but also feel new and contemporary.

The sound is delivered through the windows using audio elements that when attached to a surface, turn the whole surface into a speaker.

To make the experience more interactive and engaging, we wanted passers-by to be able to wind-up the music boxes from the street. We designed a revolutionary through-the-window, interactive triggering system that enables customers to wind-up the music boxes and set them off to play once round the carousel. On the main window they can control each of the cyclic musical elements individually, giving them the opportunity to create different versions of the piece each time, depending on the order in which they’re triggered.

Almost every bit of press in traditional and online newspapers and magazines (and there has already been a lot) has lead with the interactive music element. Proving once and for all that sound makes a difference.

Below are a few of the music box pieces we composed

Music Box 4

Music Box 8

Music Box 2

Music Box 6


Jungle in the French riviera

Condiment Junkie have just returned from creating 3 immersive sound installations for a party in the Gardens of Mas des Meuriers, St. Tropez.

Part of the garden was turned into a jungle, with reactive elements that were triggered by people’s movements, creating the impression of hidden animals sensing them. The sound was delivered through 10 speaker surround sound to create a seamless atmosphere.

Another area was turned into a beach with real sand and a bar, and featured a reactive seaside soundscape. Nearby the beach in a small cabana, a 5.1 soundscape made you feel like you were on a small yacht anchored in a quiet cove.

Admirable Crichton designed and organised the event, which was one of the most amazing things we’ve ever witnessed. It was a sheer pleasure to work with them and we look forward to the next one. Every one of the guests mentioned the sound and its effect was amazing, which we are really proud of.

We made some binaural recordings of the installations in situ, and of the whole party in full swing. Below is a short walk-through of the jungle. Listen through headphones to get the binaural effect.

Condiment Junkie jungle installation from Condiment Junkie on Vimeo.


Colour and sound

A fantastic episode of Horizon on how we perceive colour has peaked my interest because of the parallels with sound, and the connotations for multi-sensorial design.

It has been discovered that our perception of colour is tied in with our ecological evolution - that we have learnt to group certain colours together because of how they appear in nature - muted shades of blue, brown and yellows get grouped together because they appear together by the sea. Certain greens and yellows are always seen together in the countryside and so are pleasing to us when combined. These groupings are more or less universal and predictable.

This is also true with grouping colour with sound - we would immediately pair the colour blue with the sound of the sea, and green with a countryside soundscape, birds chirping and wind through trees. To swap the two would be incongruent and feel wrong. Through our ecological evolution we will always associate certain colours with certain sounds due to the environments in which they are found. Our sonic vocabulary is intrinsically linked with our memory and experience, and therefore with our understanding of colour and language.

With these naturally occurring colours our perception of them will always be similar - the yellow of a banana to me will be pretty much the same as with you. But - colours that don’t have this ecological link - lighting in a room, or a wall colour - can be perceived wildly differently from person to person, depending on their mood and emotion. Our state of mind fundamentally affects our colour perception.

If we consider then that sound and music have the strongest effect on our emotions - it is true to say that sound can dramatically change our perception of colour more than any other stimulus.

Another fascinating ecological association was found in a lighting designer’s use of blue lighting in a restaurant. Usually reds or oranges are used as they are supposed to increase appetite, but also because they are generally seen as warm (whereas blue is cold). The blue light has an effect on how we see that does in fact feel warm, making everything more ‘beautiful’ and calm. But the unexpected effect was that the customers, at around 10 o’clock, began to become more lively, drinking more and becoming more chatty. This appears to be because of the colour too - we are evolutionarily hard wired to respond to our body clocks, which in turn reacts to changes in colour. The shade of evening blue causes us to become lively and sociable.

This is interesting - what sounds can there be that can make people feel warm and relaxed and sociable, other than the standard pulse of nondescript dance music? Is there a natural soundscape of dusk that can effect our body clock and have a livening effect on us? the opposite of a cockerel crowing - if there is a colour association, there should be a sonic one. It is worth investigating.

There’s only a week left to watch the program - it’s recommended viewing so get in there quick - http://bbc.in/nfg2iV


Bjork's Biophilia iPad app

Bjork’s new Biophilia project has begun this week with the release of the Biophilia ‘mother app’, and the first of the musical releases, ‘Crystalline’.
We first came across rumblings of the Biophilia project at the end of 2010 whilst adding the final finessing touches to the sound design for Solar System for iPad. The app included an exclusive track from Bjork that played on startup, set to an animated fly through of the solar system. We designed all the haptic rumbles, atmosphere and the homepage theme to blend with Bjork’s track so there was a tonic consistency to the user experience.
That first piece of music, and it’s affiliation with both an iPad app and the theme of the universe from cosmic to microcosmic, was the beginning of a full blown exploration into technology, music, sound and nature. So has she achieved the next step along the iPad’s evolutionary path?
Well, first of all I think Bjork is one of the very few true geniuses in music today, and almost everything she does I adore. Musically this is no exception and I believe this may be her best album in the traditional sense since Vespertine. But as a sound designer with a special interest in the possibilities of audio in apps, I’m still not sure she has achieved something particularly ground breaking.
The homepage world of a line drawn nebular wherein every star contains a piece of music is beautiful. As you fly past each star the track assigned to it becomes audible and moves around you spatially, which is great though they could have been more intelligent with the holophonic (or binaural) sound design. Many sound based apps these days claim to have immersive 3D binaural audio (last year’s Inception app for example), and are usually just simply stereo. This is no exception.
Playing in the background of this nebular environment is an eerie vocal drone, which while being both beautiful and atmospheric, glitches at the end of its loop every 30 secs or so. I would’ve though they could have worked out how to make sound files loop without a glitch (we have). I know this is a minor fact, but I feel if you’re presenting something as breaking new ground in sound and technology, you kind of have to do it well.
Within the ‘Crystalline’ track there are a few visual representations of the music. There is a game reminiscent of the blowing-up-the-Deathstar bit from the original Star Wars arcade game. It’s kind of cool as an interactive video. But personally when I’m listening to something new, I want to concentrate on listening and not be occupied trying to work out how to play a game. The other visualisations take more of a musical tablature/score form. Neither manage to create a multi-sensorial experience, but rather two separate sensorial experiences.
Overall, again grand claims have been made about a new exploration of sound, and a new use of the iPad technology, that has made me prick my ears up and wonder if someone has done something really, truly interesting. So far (and there are still several tracks to be released that could suddenly blow this all out of the water), it hasn’t quite delivered. The interface needs refinement (though it works better on an iPad 2). The visualisations are nice but don’t add anything really. The sound (again, so far) is good but not brilliantly executed - I expect more. The music and the visual direction are beautiful and very Bjork, but this is a marketing tool with some interesting content, and nothing more. I’d still rather put the album on, lay back, and do my own explorations of space.


Wine List

If you’re having a dinner party this weekend, one of the choices you may be pondering over is what is the perfect music for the occasion? Another perhaps is what wine will you serve? Well fear not as Condiment Junkie have the solution to both your problems.
Did you know it is possible to design a playlist that not only entertains your guests but can actually enhance and compliment the wine you are drinking?
Music and sound can alter our perception of how things taste. This takes into account several factors - that our emotional state affects our perception, that music conjures up strong memories, and those memories can change our mood and also evoke other senses such as smell; and the fact that we have hard wired sensory links in our brains which certain sounds can trigger.

Studies have shown playing music with specific moods or associative qualities such as being smooth, sophisticated, upbeat or light etc, can influence perception of wine in exactly the same way. For instance, a red wine was judged to be 60% more ‘powerful and heavy’ when similar music (in this case Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’) was playing in the background, as opposed to the same wine being judged ‘subtle and refined’ when listening to ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ by Tchaikovsky.

Hard wired ‘cross-modal’ sensory associations are proved to exist within all of our brains. Basically - our senses are linked, and stimulating one can alter our perception of another. Colours appear brighter when accompanied with a higher pitched tone, darker when a lower tone is played. All basic tastes - bitter, sweet, sour, salty, umami - have over many studies been shown to be linked with certain audio characteristics, from types of musical instruments, pitch, timbre and tempo

These discoveries provide us with all sorts of information that can influence everything from in-store music for food and drink retailers, background music in restaurants, advertising tracks or music at experiential events, and for designing a correct sound palette for a brand’s sonic identity.
But for now, Condiment Junkie have designed a short Spotify playlist for your listening and drinking pleasure. Below is a list of the tracks and their suggested wine pairings. We’ve given you two tracks for each wine. Be aware not to drink the wrong wine with the wrong piece of music! There’s nothing worse than accidentally making your Cabernet Sauvignon taste all citrusy. Enjoy.

http://open.spotify.com/user/russelljones/playlist/2HSz2yCCpVudLgRy8JC8tk Wine list
Track 1 - Nouvelle Vague - Just can’t get enough

Wine - Chablis or Chardonnay
Wines with zingy and refreshing qualities such as a citrusy Chablis have been proven to taste 40% more zingy and refreshing while listening to this track.
Track 2 - Blondie - Atomic
Wine - Chablis or Chardonnay
Again, the upbeat tempo will highten the zingy flavours and the higher pitched register of the track fits with the lighter wines.

Track 3 - The Jones Girls - Nights over Egypt

Wine - Cabernet Sauvignon
The smooth vibe will bring out the smoothness in the wine, while the mid-tempo will keep it lively
Track 4 - The Doors - People are Strange - Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine - Cabernet Sauvignon
clark Smith, a california winemaker and wine consultant, found after a number of tasting panels that participants described a Cabernet Sauvignon as ‘more deliscious’ when accompanied by this Doors classic.
Track 5 - Kettly Lester - Love Lessons
Wine - Merlot
This track has all the sophistication and depth you need for a good merlot.

Track 6 - Antony & the Johnsons - Another World
Wine - Merlot
The bassy frequencies are proven to be hard wired to bitter flavours, and will work well with the tannins in the wine, while Antony Hegarty’s angelic voice will bring out the smoothness, depth and sophistication.
Track 7 - Dusty Springfield - Who gets your love
Wine - Sauternes
The staccato rhythm of the keys, and the use of keyboards themselves are attributed with sweet flavours, particularly orange. Dusty’s high register will also work well with the syrupy sweetness.
Track 8 - Roxy Music - Dance Away
Wine - Sauternes
Again, the staccato rhythm and sweet vocals will work well with a good desert wine. Maybe have a nice panna cotta with this one.


Experimental food Society

Condiment Junkie are very proud to announce that we are now members of the fantastic Experimental Food Society.

The roster of members includes jelly mongers Bombass & Parr, cake sculptor Lily Vanilli, sugarcraft artists, mobile chocolate adventurers and one-of-a-kind dining conceptualists to name a few. Each unique in their field members are joined by their love of food and their desire to push it to new levels, often fusing it with other forms such as science and art.

The Experimental Food Society will host both an annual Spectacular and a series of talks throughout the year. Leave behind your preconceptions of food and allow the Experimental Food Society members to delight your senses and inspire you with their extraordinary talents, showing you the culinary industry as you have never seen it before.


iPad and iPhone users engaged for longer with Audio

Great article from the Nieman Journalism Lab about how sound in HMI devices engages users for longer. Some good stats in there too.



Fin & Flounder retail sound experiment

Pop into the Fin & Flounder fishmongers on Broadway Market in East London, and you may be mistaken that you’ve been transported to the Devonshire coast.

Condiment Junkie have created a pop up sound installation that projects a seascape of crashing waves and seagulls around the fresh fish counter and the pavement just outside.

The installation is part of an experiment into the benefits of sound in the retail space. The soundscape is designed to conjure up memories and emotions associated with being by the sea, which then amplifies the other senses and enhances the freshness of the fish.

At the end of the month long trial, the Fin & Flounder team will assess its effects on the amount of transactions and average customer spend.

Head down and witness it for yourself - Fin & Flounder, 71 Broadway Market, E8


Nursery Rhymes for iPad

We've just completed the sound effects and UI audio design for Nursery Rhymes for iPad.

The book is a collaboration between app geniuses Us Two, and Atomic Antelope - the people behind the bestselling 'Alice'.

The animation and drawings are spectacular in this book, as is the UI and manipulation of the characters. A big shout to Neil McFarland and the team for their beautiful drawings.

The sound brings the stories to life and is designed purely to entertain and engage both children and parents alike. We didn't shy away from making the sounds quite visceral and real, rather than anything childlike. When you throw Jack & Jill down the hill, or chop the tails off the Three Blind Mice, you really feel it. In a couple of the stories we've engaged some of our haptic technique to add a tactile element to the experience.

An overwhelming amount of comments on the app store praise the sound effects. We are very proud. Cheers to everyone involved.


Solar System wins best app at Future Book awards

Solar system for iPad has won the award for best app at the first ever Future Book awards last night.

The judges, who included digital specialists from across publishing, praised the app for its combination of content and iPad wizardry.

Condiment Junkie designed the UI audio and created a haptic feedback feature in the amazing orrery, that makes the whole pad rumble as you zoom into the planets.

Congratulations to everyone involved.



Falmouth University sound lecture

Last week I was once again down at Falmouth University, Cornwall, to deliver a lecture to the Film and Multi-Media students.

The lecture was entitled 'Contours and Conventions', and focused on how we interpret emotional content and information through sound and music, and how our understanding of what the future will sound like has been shaped by cinema.

The title comes from a phrase coined by Peter Kivy, in his book 'Sound Sentiments'. Contours are melodic shapes that mirror our experiences and our environment, such as speech patterns or body movement - for instance, a lament in classical music works on a descending scale, and indicates sadness. The scale imitates our body movement and the tones of our voice when we are sad. Conventions are codes that we have learnt to associate with different psychological states, through our interaction with culture.

Cinema has taught us many conventions, from the sound of a hot desert, and the fact that every snake rattles even if it isn't a rattlesnake, to the sound of lasers and hover cars, and the bleeps of touch screen user interfaces in the future. We have become incredibly sophisticated now in our ability to decipher complex information about mood, emotion, environment and technology through the sophistication of cinema sound design.

Knowing the language of cinema as well as understanding how we interact with and decipher our sonic environment, we can create more efficient and effective environmental sound design, that conveys the right information and emotional content, and meets with our expectations of the future.

The lecture seemed to go down a treat with the students. A big thanks to Kingsley Marshall, head of the Film department and long time friend of Condiment Junkie. Kingsley and the Junkie are embarking on a couple of research papers later this year. More on that soon.