How a design company’s sculptures use magnetic energy to pull strings and create calming sounds.
When you think about relaxing sounds, you might think about the sound of a waterfall, the chirping of birds, or the soothing music from an instrument. You are less likely to think about magnets, but they too can produce relaxing sounds.
Magnetic Sound, a design company that creates tranquil sounds from magnetic energy exerted on strings, is showing how technology and the soul can be related. That relationship has always been true of music, but in Magnetic Sound’s case, it is about using sound as a tool to give an alternative meaning to a space, with interactive sculptures, and soundscapes.
“A soundscape is a type of composition, specifically an environment of sound,” says MJ Caselden, founder of Magnetic Sound, from his studio in Valley Cottage, just north of New York. “There are two types of soundscapes. One type is the audio recording of an environment, under a bridge or in nature. The second type of soundscape is where something is ambient, atmospheric, and encompassing sound.”
Magnetic Sounds’ technology is a wood sculpture that looks like a mix between a work of art and a string instrument. Two sculptures are placed on the walls of a space to create a soundscape for users to practice deep breathing, reflection, and guide them into a meditative experience. The compositions created by the magnets are controlled by algorithms that were written by Caselden that generate unique harmonies every time the sculptures are activated. Clicking on the Soundscapes App on a phone or tablet triggers the magnets that cause the strings to vibrate, and the reverberation through the wood sculpture creates the sound.
The company promotes their sculptures by exhibiting them at cultural festivals, design trade shows, and museums. They also install them in local businesses throughout New York that want to try them out on their customers. One such business was Lift Next Level Floats, a sensory deprivation/flotation therapy centre. Floating is a niche activity, but one that is exactly suitable for what Magnetic Sound offers. The small business allowed them to create a soundscape in their lobby as a two-week trial as a way for their customers to transition between the busyness of New York life and their flotation therapy.
“Lift Next Level Floats came out at just the right time when there was a rise in the interest of alternative therapies and recreational wellness experiences,” explains Caselden. He has slowly developed relationships and friendships with small business, co-working spaces, and independent hotels in Brooklyn that cater to the desire of personal wellness, such as an herbal tea bar and Lift Next Level Floats, whose founder Caselden met years earlier at an electronic music festival.
“Float was part of our experimental installations set up in businesses. Before, we would set up at festivals or in museums,” says Caselden. “It has been great to see something that was abstract and new get applied and installed in different businesses.” The feedback that the company received from those trials helped them to understand what people can and cannot sense. In order to influence wellness with sound, an audiological range had to be established, where a maximum number of people actually hear the sound that the magnets are making.
“There were certain feelings that people were getting from the sound in that decompression space (the lobby at Lift Next Level Floats) where they were sitting, but there were also people who were numb to the experience. It would not have made a different whether or not the pieces were there.” recalls Caselden. Since Lift Next Level Floats did not have a dedicated space to set up the installation, the trial only lasted for two weeks.
Compared to different types of interactive arts where the story is visually communicated, magnetic energy is invisible, so for Magnetic Sounds to get people to understand the experience as more than a quirky experience, they had to learn more about sound baths.
In sound baths, people are breathing together at the same pattern in tandem with sound. Some focus more on breathing, while others focus on chanting or vocal toning, but in settings such as those, technology like what Magnetic Sounds installs makes sense. In small businesses, it was hard to communicate what the sculptures meant, without knowing what they can offer to the relaxation and meditation industry. By themselves, the sculptures did not instantly convey their purpose to those who came upon them in small businesses. “For this reason, we do more than set up sculptures, but we seek to offer experiences,” explains Caselden.
Is Magnetic Sounds offering an interactive art or meditative experience? That is the question that is frequently on the minds of people who see their installations at open trade shows, where multiple dedicated spaces are too costly for the company to show how their technology works. If you see a Magnetic Sound sculpture in an open space at a convention centre or the lobby of a small business it will seem like interactive art, a novel invention for a space, but when you see it installed in a yoga studio its purpose is more recognisable as a meditative experience. Caselden’s answer to that question is more personal.
“These are two sides of one coin. The concept of meditation has performative undertones, elements of craft, and elements of ritualization that go into traditions of meditation,” explains Caselden, who has been operating a meditation practice for 15 years.
“If you live the majority of your adult life meditating regularly, when you release something that is an expression of yourself, which is what Magnetic Sound is, that is how art can coexist with meditation. This is distinct from the contemporary wellness movement, where Western interpretation reverse-engineers longstanding traditions, extrapolates what is beneficial in a capitalist sense, and develops a brand narrative for a return on investment. They are selling meditation with a fragmented approach.”
For now, Magnetic Sounds sculptures have mainly been installed and exhibited in private business and public areas in the U.S., and mostly in New York, but they can be shipped to anywhere in the world.
Words Phil Roberts