Design Con 2015

Weaving sound into smart clothes with wearable tech

Jessica Lipsky

July 29, 2014

Jessica LipskyJuly 29, 2014

NEW YORK – The future of mainstream wearable technology may be driven by the fashion industry, keynoters at the Wearable Tech Expo said. Researcher Sabine Seymour suggested ways music and audio could become central to the success of smart clothes, but said chip makers need to find and embrace cloth-friendly materials to enable this emerging opportunity.

Seymour told EE Times:

Music is a very strong and appealing trend, just look at starting in the 70s when people were walking around with boom boxes. In New York City on the subway, almost every third person has headphones on, you constantly want to create your own sound. You can use sound in a sporting situation where you want to create your own activity, or shut out the sound of a polluted city. You associate music and sound with a lot of memories, I think sound is a very, very appealing actuation.

As the founder of Moondial, a consulting and research firm, Seymour has focused on the use of music in fabric and garments in the fashion industry and for larger companies such as Siemens, VF Corporation, and General Electric. At the Expo, held July 22-24 in Manhattan, Seymour detailed her vision for the future of wearables and showcased music-based garments.

Aiming to create a perfume of sounds rather than smells, she collaborated with a European fashion studio and Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna to develop sonic fabric. The result was a poncho with a variety of closures, each of which made a different sound and buttons that doubled as speakers.

Ricardo Onascimento's harp cape with sonic fabric. (Source: Onascimento)
Ricardo Onascimento's harp cape with sonic fabric.
(Source: Onascimento)

"This triggers a lot of interesting thought processes for me in what can you do to enhance [the garment] for the wearer. Every single closure is creating a part of a soundtrack. Depending on which closure, you can control your own soundscape," Seymour said, adding that she initially hoped garments would be connected to smartphones. She continued:

When you zip up your pants, you close your pants and close the circuit. Whenever I close something, I create a circuit and am able to actuate or sense. If we also think about the hook, the button, the loop, everything we use in our garments. It’s important to me that technology is seamless, invisible. You’re only aware of it when you need it.

Moondial and Bless, the Paris/Berlin-based studio responsible for the poncho, and Popkalab took the sonic fabric a step further to create the installation BLESS No45 Soundperfume. The installation made an interactive sonic scape from articles of clothing and accessories; people would walk through a curtain where various pieces of fabric controlled the exhibit’s volume and sound.

To read more of this article and to leave a comment, go to "Soft hardware needed." 

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