The End of Hearing

The End of Hearing is a design fictions exploration of possible worlds in which our soundscapes have radically changed. It is a series of three science-fiction stories told in different media: writing, film, narrative objects, and performance.

When I moved to London I was surprised by the levels of noise experienced in everyday life in the city. Inspired by this and by my previous research into CETI, I created The End of Hearing — a collection of three science-fiction scenarios designed to explore peoples' attitudes towards possible futures of hearing.

The first scenario, "Artificial Silence", is about regulating the sensitivity of hearing with the use of ototoxic antibiotics (one of their side effects is hearing damage). In that future the Otomixer would allow its users to mix ototoxic doses that can turn off one's hearing for a selected duration and in a chosen frequency range.

The Otomixer

The second scenario, "Blasting!", explores the future of sound conditioning — a novel medical intervention that can protect against noise truma and prevent hearing loss. I was interested in new extreme sports that could spin-off from new medical advancements like this.

Cross-sections of cells before and after, with and without sound conditioning (image from the cited science article)
Niu et al. Environmental enrichment to sound activates dopaminergic pathways in the auditory system. Physiol Behav. 2007 Sep 10;92(1-2):34-9.

The last scenario titled "Voices Inside My Head" imagines another future in which human brain can be augmented to sense radio signals and wireless communication. I created the AIR Implant as a prop for discussing this scenario — it is an actual crystal AM radio receiver tuned to 912.5 kHz (BBC Radio 5) in a gelatine capsule.

AIR implants AIR implants

I presented The End of Hearing in a public show in London in 2011. I used the scenarios and objects to provoke a discussion with my viewers about their attitudes towards hearing and noise pollution.

Collecting visitors' feedback

I presented The End of Hearing in a public show in London in 2011. I used the scenarios and objects to provoke a discussion with my viewers about their attitudes towards hearing and noise pollution.

I asked the viewers to fill out a survey with 10 questions about the perception of noise, the role of hearing in peoples' lifes, and the role of design in shaping futures. I collected replies from 65 viewers.

Survey #45 — filled out
Survey #14 — filled out
Survey #27 — filled out

The results of my survey showed that:

  • we believe that future can be shaped and that design can help us do this,
  • we value hearing and think that we can adapt to future soundscapes,
  • we are undecided about the role that noise played in our lives.
Survey — visual summary

I made all objects myself, which was great fun. The Otomixer and the plastic blister for AIR Implants were made in the old Central Saint Martins wood and plastics workshops in Holborn in central London.

The old wood workshop at the CSM in Holborn

I made all objects myself, which was great fun. The Otomixer and the plastic blister for AIR Implants were made in the old Central Saint Martins wood and plastics workshops in Holborn in central London.

Prototyping the Otomixer
Prototyping the Otomixer
Prototyping the Otomixer
Prototyping the Otomixer
Prototyping the Otomixer
Prototyping the Otomixer
Prototyping the Otomixer
Prototyping the Otomixer
Prototyping the Otomixer
Prototyping the Otomixer

I also prototyped all working electronic components used the objects. I started by building radio receivers and transmitters, and experimenting with sound amplification.

Building a crystal radio Building a radio transmitter Building a sound amplifier

The Otomixer houses a sound equalizer. I built it from scratch using standard electronic components, including the LM741 integrated circuit for equalization and the LM386 for amplification.

Prototyping a sound equaliser

The Otomixer houses a graphic sound equalizer. I built it from scratch using standard electronic components, including the LM741 integrated circuit for equalization and the LM386 for amplification.

The AIR Implant is a little crystal radio built using a germanium diode, a ceramic capacitor, and an inductance coil. The radio resonates in 912.5 kHz (BBC Radio 5). I assembled about 60 implants like that.

Building 60 crystal radios as Air implants

The AIR Implant is a little crystal radio built using a germanium diode, a ceramic capacitor, and an inductance coil. The radio resonates in 912.5 kHz (BBC Radio 5). I assembled about 60 implants like that.

I presented and discussed The End of Hearing at:

  • Dynamic Media Institute lecture series at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston in 2012 and 2013,
  • 2nd international workshop on Creative Science in Nottingham, 2011.

The project was published in:

  • Workshop Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Intelligent Environments, 2011, eds. JC Augusto et al., pp 219-230,
  • DesigningScience publication by super/collider.

I have also shown The End of Hearing as part of:

  • Scinema Science Film Festival 2012 film selection,
  • Eccentricity: The Fourth Plinth exhibition at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, 2011,
  • Design Faction exhibition at the 2011 LDZIGN Design Festival in Łódź,
  • CSM MA Communication Design final show at Rochelle School in London, 2011.