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Binaudio: Capturing the City with Sound

Artist and inventor Dominic Wilcox recently partnered with expert in creative technology James Rutherford to create “Binaudio,” a binocular-like device that captures the sounds of the city.


The invention, commissioned for the Thinking Digital Conference, sits in the lobby of The Sage Gateshead, a space known for music and sound recording.  This, as well as the physical characteristics of the space inspired the piece. “The view across the river is spectacular and the idea for these Binaudios emerged,” Wilcox notes. The resulting device consists of two large funnels that extend from the ears outwards towards the Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England scenery. Like binoculars typical to sightseeing, it rotates to capture a panoramic view or, in this case, sound.


Wilcox advises that in order to step out of the box of conventional design, “it’s important to think the ridiculous.” With a portfolio of a portable desk designed for the tree-branch dweller, a golden skipping stone, and a sketchbook of equally wonderful and outrageous ideas, his proclamation that “the ridiculous can lead you in new directions you haven’t thought about yet,” honestly describes his philosophy and work.

From the street musician’s guitar chords to children singing, a resounding cheer from a baseball stadium, and a cow slowly chewing grass, the Binaudio creates a surprising, novel and rather magical experience of the city. The intricate and expertly hidden computing and coding technology used includes a Raspberry Pi unit and rotating ‘listening cones’ to link sounds to orientation. As Wilcox describes, “It’s more about how [Binaudios] are used rather than showing off technology.” When paired with the manual work of physically gathering and recording the intonations of the city from different locations, the device articulates the place through a continuum of synthesized sound.


Ellen Xie

A native of Bethel, CT, Ellen attended Vassar College for a degrees in Environmental Studies and English.

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