“Alexa, play Kendrick Lamar.” Voice is the latest, greatest interface to play music, far easier than fiddling radio tuning knobs or scan-and-seek buttons. But what if the device that plays your music wasn’t merely designed for convenience? What if it was designed to change your relationship with music itself?
That’s the idea behind Pour Reception, an art project by Tore Knudsen, Simone Okholm Hansen, and Victor Permild, featured recently on Creative Applications. It’s a radio that you tune by filling, drinking, and tapping on two glasses of water.
By pouring water from one glass to the other, you scrub through frequencies to find a new station. By touching a jar, you can fine-tune its signal and remove distortion. Finally, to turn the music down, you just plunge your finger right into the water. Holding it submerged will eventually pause the music, too.
The interface looks impossible, but it’s born from extremely common capacitive technologies. Through principles that work just like your iPhone touch screen, everyday objects can conduct micro amounts of electricity, which becomes a signal affected by our touch. In Pour Reception‘s case, the radio plate, the glass, and the water itself are all different layers of this capacitive interface, enabling its strange-but-familiar mix of controls.
Of course, as fun as it looks, you might wonder, why would anyone build this thing? “It is possible to augment our physical world in ways that challenge our perceptions of the objects we interact with. In this project, we aim to change the user’s perception of what a glass is–both culturally and technically,” the team writes on the project page. “Pour Reception is an example of how technology can give new meaning to our cultural and functional perception of objects.”
Indeed, interface experiments that blur the bounds between analog objects and digital platforms are crucial to pushing our own societal expectations for a more connected environment. In the future, any object could be smart and sensor-filled, but do you want to live in a world of touch screens on every surface? Me neither. Plus, we should all probably be drinking a bit more water, anyway.