Kroos, Christian, Duel, Tijs and Frohlich, David (2018) Sonic mnemonic. In: International Conference: Human-Technology Relations, July 11-13th, 2018, University of Twente, The Netherlands.


Sound is dynamic by its physical nature. It consists of oscillating changes of pressure differences that propagate as waves through a suitable medium such as air. Its ephemerality shapes the way it is processed in the perceptual systems of humans and other animals, forcing their perception to align in time with the evolving sound event. The constant relative processing incompleteness induces unexpected empirical phenomena, e.g., the psychoacoustic effect that a current sound might be obscured by a future sound (backward masking, e.g., Zwicker & Fastl, 1972) or the psycholinguistic effect that watching a speaker’s face can change the auditory perception of a spoken syllable in the case of auditory-visual incongruence (McGurk & MacDonald, 1976).

The transient character also impacts human retrospection. An auditory memory carries time itself within it and requires temporal expansion in the recollection. Or does it? How does a recalled sound enfold over time in the ‘mental ear’ if such a faculty indeed exists? The interdisciplinary project ‘Making Sense of Sounds’ at the University of Surrey includes the development of a device facilitating acquisition and recall of sonic memories. Here sound will be used as a cue, but unlike in the visual domain, the fundamentals informing the design are unclear: How do we remember sounds? How could we search for sounds? How will the mnemonic technology mediate the recollection experience? These questions will be discussed in the light of the incremental design process of the device and linked to the broader topic of remembering sounds.

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