I have been tracking audio technology developments since 2007, excited to imagine how our accelerating world might change the way we relate to our senses. But years of speculation takes its toll, resulting in a kind of “future fatigue” (“Where is my hoverboard?”) – and so it was with immense delight that, on a trip to New York this summer, I met inventor Michael White and experienced his new device bassAware, a wearable subwoofer that takes personal audio into an entirely new and sexy dimension.
This isn’t just a concept; it’s a reality, market-ready, and poised to change the way we relate to our favorite music forever. Michael was kind enough to indulge SolPurpose with an email interview on the history and social implications of bassAware:
SP: My first question is, what got you into audio and electronics?
MW: In early 2009 I moved into a big loft in Bedstuy Brooklyn. An acquaintance had a really great old granny tricycle and needed somewhere to store it. I had plenty of room so I agreed to take it. I also had been keeping a bunch of car stereo parts that I had gotten from my brother. At some point I thought it would be fun to rig up the car stereo onto the trike. It worked out great – we called it the Boom Trike and it became a bit of a fixture in the fringe Brooklyn art scene. We had lots of spontaneous dance parties. We took it to parades, and renegade park parties, and street fairs and so on. It was a great little mobile sound system. I learned a bit about car stereos and 12v power systems. After about a year of this, I decided to make a completely custom sound trike from scratch. This second version also used car stereo gear – I learned even more about 12v systems and setting up small sound systems. After that, I built sound systems for two art cars. One was a small system, the other was huge 30kwatt system. So I learned about audio gear and electronics just by working on these art projects.
SP: There’s a pretty obvious continuity between projects like the Boom Trike and your later participation in silent discos, which you mention in your Kickstarter video for bassAware. Both of them emphasize a decentralized, almost guerrilla ethos. (We met at a Brooklyn Burner party, so that’s pretty appropriate.) And of course, bassAware is a personal, holstered subwoofer…this project strikes me as almost having a political dimension to it, like a Prostestant Reformation in the Church of Bass. (Carrying your own subs on your back democratizes the spatial arrangement of a dance party, whereas before bass worshipers had to gather up front by the mains.) Is that intentional?
MW: Any politics are a welcome bonus, but this wasn’t really on my mind during creation. It was more along the lines of. “Wouldn’t this be cool if…” That said, I appreciate that for many cultures, music is not a segmented consumable – but rather a ever present aspect of the continuum of life. White middle class American culture has completely lost its music/rhythm/dancing/singing traditions. I’m sad about this and in my own life I’ve made an effort to re-learn what it means to make music, and to play drums, and to dance with elegance and freedom, and to sing with power – not for performance or spectacle – but because its fulfilling and connecting and participatory and playful and joyful. The technology I’ve created is simply more tools in the toolbox – for creating celebration and beauty wherever/whenever/and with whomever – regardless of accepted norms and contexts.
SP: It definitely brings the sound closer than I’m used to! When you let me try on bassAware in New York this summer, it was a surprisingly vivid, intimate, evocative experience – to have the sound integrated into your clothing like that is a real trip. It got me thinking about other applications beyond the dance floor – somatic therapy, sound-table type stuff. Maybe you could even give someone a full-body orgasm if you found the right frequencies. Do you know anybody working on exploring bassAware’s broader potential? Are you planning to market this to sound healing institutes, or have you spoken with any of them about the opportunities for research?
MW: bassAware is an entertainment audio device. Broader topics often come up and I’m personally very interested in them, however there is really very little science that I know of on the specific therapeutic effects of sounds on the human body. I would love to be involved in future studies on such – it seems to be a vast uncharted area of future research.
SP: Well, hopefully, we have some mad scientists reading…other than simply shipping the fulfillments for your successful campaign, what are your greatest dreams for bassAware? How do you hope to see this technology taking root in society in five, ten years’ time?
MW: I suspect that in ten years time tactile audio will be ubiquitous – this tech will be a standard feature of backpacks, cars, office chairs, home theater couches and so on. As a comparison, in the mid ’80s commodity home stereos didn’t include a subwoofer but by the mid ’90s a subwoofer was completely standard. My opinion is that this was largely an effect of the rise in popularity of hip hop music. I think a similar trend is happening with tactile bass and the rising popularity of electronic dance music. My vision for bassAware is simply to make great gear that works right and looks great and to have a lot of fun in the process. While I’d love to see bassAware having widespread crossover success in mainstream channels, we are going to focus on being the premium brand in the electronic dance music space. As promo events, we will be hosting many high profile silent disco events in 2014. At this point, I’m really looking forward to our first big party where I get to see a huge group of people rocking out all at once with bassAware. I’m really excited to see how all of this will come together.
SP: Awesome! Well, thanks for your time. I’m really glad to see this out there and we all wish you great success!
Orders for bassAware will reopen soon.
Stay tuned to their website and facebook page for details!