Early this year, Frank Swain started using a pair of Starkey Halo hearing aids after a decade of his gradual loss of hearing. This Bluetooth-connected device that streamed wireless from iPhone is one of the most high-tech hearing aid device in the market.
It made Swain, the writer of New Scientist though that hearing aid are always considered to be the answer to hearing impairment, however, what if they can be utilized for more than just boosting the performance of the ear? What if these can be utilized to hearing things those normal ears could not hear?
With the Phantom Terrains Project, Swain together with Daniel Jones, a sound artist hacked Swain’s hearing aids so they can interpret the hidden world of WiFi signals into alien soundscapes.
Swain walked to the streets and hears the altering melodies of WiFi networks and collects supplemental layers of information regarding his surroundings which is soundless to anyone except for him. With this Phantom Terrains, Swain has excellently transformed his disability into super-ability.
The sounds coming to every wireless networks are based from a numbers of criteria. Let us say; a background layer – is clicking; clicking noise – will reveal the density of the networks in that particular area. The more numbers of networks from that area, the denser the clicking sounds.
This data is geo-located, which makes the closer it gets to any router, the more clicking it becomes. Once the clicking happens in your left, you will be hearing the sound in your left ear; and when it happens from the right, you can hear it from your right ear.
At the front, you will be hearing a faint melody similar to a drifting song within the range coming from a distant radio. This is what happens when a network ID is translated into musical notes. Every numbers or letters will produce different notes, so, as the mass of routers will start with similar pitches, these melodies will be changing quickly as individual routers number will emerge.
Phantom Terrains project is taken as a clever idea. Similar to TimoArnall and Steve Mann illustrated in their light paintings, which visualizes the invisible streams of data leading to a beautiful results.
However, Phantom Terrains is more than illustration; it grows into a larger point regarding the ways we can interact and understand the information. Hearing, just like seeing is another effective approach to understand the world surrounding us.
More than what your eyes can see, the ears are proficient in gathering and understanding huge amount of complicated data easily and quickly. Think about the failure of Google Glass, it asks too much from the users. The sonification is a clever way in processing unmanageable set of data, just like Phantom Terrains does to WiFi but it also have hits from auditory interface.
According to Swain, he believes that they are having just started to explore the advantages of audio tools from Siri, Amazon Echo and Contana. With the growth of high-bandwidth, and low powered devices (like Swain’s hearing aids), it is much easier to have constant humming from seen and unseen digital lives such as WiFi, satellites, email or other data streams you will opt to.