A new app offers a therapeutic aural experience amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life.
Geolocation technologies like Google Maps typically help people find their way. But what if they help you get lost instead? This is the premise of Sonic Walks: Relak designed by Sistrum.
The collective—Lim Shu Min, Laura Miotto and Ramesh Krishnan— have long been interested in how mobile phones and geolocation technologies can offer new possibilities in their work designing exhibitions for museums and galleries. In 2021, they finally got the opportunity to experiment when Shu Min received support from the Good Design Research initiative. Together, they designed an audio walking tour for the Gallop Extension at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Instead of being guided through a fixed path like in many conventional tours, Sistrum’s tour plays audio based on where visitors walk in the gardens. Around the Botanical Art Gallery, they are invited to enjoy the shade under one of the many large historic trees as they are introduced to the nature of botanical gardens. Walking through a trail in the garden, visitors hear about details of the changing scenery. These narrated, evocative texts were written by academic Tania Roy and poet Shawn Hoo to engage listeners despite its non-linear format.
“We wanted an approach that was a little more exploratory and not purely about delivering content,” Shu Min says.
Laura adds: “You become the composer of what you listen. It’s not predetermined by the storyteller.”
Visitors can also hear a variety of soundscapes designed by Ramesh based on frequencies that heal the body. At the beginning of the tour, they are asked how they feel and the mood they like to be in at the end. This determines the different sets of sounds played throughout the tour. The group designed this wellness aspect after noticing how many people sought refuge in the gardens during the pandemic. They also experienced the healing power of sound when they went for a “gong bath”, a form of sound therapy where one is healed by different vibrations produced by hitting a gong.
While their tour is still a prototype, it has helped Sistrum showcase to potential clients what they can do with these technologies. The GDR project has also helped them develop the tools and know-how for creating such experiences.
They now see the impact of design and technology on city living differently too.
“We are always thinking about functionality and efficiency as good qualities of design, but in this case the quality we are trying to achieve is to slow things down,” says Laura, further explaining that tuning into the audio content and the act of discovery is one way to meander more meaningfully.
“As urbanites, we’re often too busy and don’t have the time to get lost, and let our imagination and emotions run wild. But this direction [of slowing down and rediscovering] could be more beneficial for our humanity than we realise.”