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The Journal of Sonic Studies
Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 6, nr. 1 (January 2014)Daniel Hug; Moritz Kemper: FROM FOLEY TO FUNCTION: A PEDAGOGICAL APPROACH TO SOUND DESIGN FOR NOVEL INTERACTIONS

To refer to this article use this url: http://journal.sonicstudies.org/vol06/nr01/a03

Project 2: Wash and Play

Basil Schmid, Nils Solanki, Ramun Rinklin

For this group, the starting assignment was the “Doc-O-Mat”. They soon focused on the process of hand washing, which has become more widely discussed again in the context of swine flu. The group’s aim was to make the process of washing the hands according to the WHO guidelines more enjoyable through “gamification”.[6]

Foley Mockup

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The concept of gamification lead the group to the conclusion that “game-like sounds” in the form of synthetic 8-bit sounds as we know from old video game consoles should be used, with the aim of transferring an aesthetic of their gaming experiences into an everyday context (washing hands). Another argumentation was that synthetic beeps were already part of the soundscape in a hospital, and thus their design approach would work because the basic sonic aesthetics were familiar and still offered a novel, playful quality to the chore of washing one’s hands. While these are valid positions, the result was that the “Foley stage” in this project was actually inexistent.

Electroacoustic Mockup

Because the first prototype turned out to be quite linear, with game sounds being triggered at each step of the process of washing hands, we encouraged the team to further explore the motivational and gestural aspects. In particular they were asked to investigate potentials for interactive sound-action relationships, to help increase the efficiency of washing hands, which, according to the WHO guidelines, depends on hand positions and the correct execution of specific motions.

The group thus investigated the habits of people when washing their hands and created a step-by-step overview of the process. They decided to work with spatial position, the overall temporal development, and timing and strength of hand movement. Still, the design remained rather linear. Further qualitative research would have been necessary in order to find interesting action-sound couplings.

Sonically, the decision to recreate the 8-bit video game sound aesthetics was paramount. Being asked to explore variations and interactive relationships, they resorted to a software which generates 8-bit game style sounds based on the setting of some parameters. With this software it was possible for them to create a set of sound variations without departing from the aesthetic framework. On the other hand, the opportunity for a more open sonic exploration was missing. This was also a consequence of their interaction concept, which was focused on signal sounds for each consecutive stage of hand washing, and did not consider more expressive and interactive potentials, or how sound could be used to motivate people to wash their hands more thoroughly.

Functional Prototype

The team of “Wash and Play” was very motivated to implement their prototype in the final phase, and they stated in a discussion that for them the whole project depended on successful functional implementation. During this stage, the group was still limited in terms of sound design by their chosen style. Also, their goal of implementing the prototype into an actual restroom lead to long experimentation and development with the sensors and electronics, which had to be fitted into the faucet and soap dispenser.

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Figure 6: Sensor being used by the Wash and Play group to track running water

On the one hand, the team profited from this effort, because it was very rewarding to experience the interaction in a realistic setting. Also, the challenge led to some innovative technical solutions from which the group learned a lot.

VideoObject 1: Wash and Play final presentation

In terms of the workshop goals, the consequence of this technical absorption was that even the few possible approaches to investigate and develop truly interactive aspects and the corresponding sounds, for instance during the rubbing of the hands, as well as a more thorough investigation of the topic of hygiene, could not be further explored.

Concluding Remarks

Although the 8-bit game aesthetics laid on its usual charm, the style-based approach chosen by this group did not correspond well with the proposed methodology; maintaining the style restricts the creation of sounds and the sonic flexibility required for modulations in line with interactions. Also, there is the danger of producing sonic stereotypes that can soon become tiresome. The discussions with the group revealed that there was a certain degree of distrust that any sound could possibly be interesting enough, which resulted in an orientation towards sounds that were considered “cool” – in this case a certain type of game sound. The argument that synthetic beeps are already common in hospital and health center contexts seemed valid, but also leads to the reinforcement of a (problematic) sonic condition rather than offering alternative approaches.

Last but not least, the absence of an actual Foley-mockup precluded innovative insights from an improvisational setting and the mental readiness to abandon some design ideas if necessary. One related issue was the focus on using sounds to notify and represent certain stages rather than to explore expressive, performative, and narrative qualities.