Humans tend to prioritize their sense of sight, but our other senses can be just as powerful. A single whiff of a nostalgic scent can pull you back to a distant time, like the smell of a campfire reminding you of a childhood camping trip. Sound can be equally compelling, with certain songs or phrases forcing the recall of forgotten memories. Artist Daric Gill harnessed that effect in his The Memory Machine: Sound art installation, which uses motion-activated sound sculptures to transport visitors to faraway locales.
The Memory Machine: Sound consists of three distinct “sound sculptures.” Each individual sound sculpture detects the presence of a visitor and begins playing a carefully curated soundscape designed to represent a specific location in the world or a moment in time. For example, one soundscape is a recording taken next to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum. Another was recorded near a flowing stream surrounded by coastal redwoods in the Muir Woods National Monument in California.
The sound sculptures resemble bass drums and Gill crafted all three of them by hand. He describes them as “trunks,” which is appropriate given that they were made from hollowed logs. Each trunk also has “branches” through which the cables pass. Gill then painted the trunk end caps with bold, colorful motifs reminiscent of color field art.
On the electronics side, Gill turned to Adafruit. Each sound sculpture contains an Adafruit Feather M4 Express development board and an Adafruit Music Maker Featherwing. They receive power from a large 24V power supply through a buck converter. The 24V power feeds directly to a 160W class D stereo amplifier, which receives the audio signal from the Music Maker Featherwing. Audio recordings reside on an SD card in the Featherwing and the Feather M4 Express detects the presence of people using a PIR (Passive InfraRed) sensor.
Gill mounted The Memory Machine: Sound installations in a hallway within the COSI (Center of Science and Industry) Museum in Columbus, Ohio. As visitors walk down the hallway, they pass underneath the sound sculptures hanging from the ceiling. When they do, the recorded soundscapes activate and give the visitors an auditory experience.