Saying a lot with very little – miniature compositions from Mira Calix for T7

The T7  speaker is not only first our portable BlueTooth speaker it is also our first product to feature sound design built into its functionality. We asked the composer, Mira Calix, to explain how she went about creating compositions of less than a second long:

“I’ve long been a huge Bowers & Wilkins fan (having never left the house without my  P5‘s… although more recently my affections  have been surpassed by the P3’s) so when Jason Nims – VP of user experience first suggested a collaboration on a new product, I was over the moon!

Bowers & Wilkins is, of course, renowned for it’s meticulous approach to craftsmanship of sound – but none of its products have ever integrated sound into its user interface. This was a bold step into the new.

I’m referring to the project that’s kept us busy over the last 10 months as creating ‘sound icons’. It has a long history and it goes by many names; you may think of it as sound design. For me, a sonic icon, is designed to pair with a particular ‘button’ function for a greater understanding and experience when navigating an interface. It is axiomatic that every sonic icon must register in the listener’s mind. Which means, it has to have some emotional truth or connection to the function you’re performing.

This is an area I’ve worked in before, but I did even more research, familiarising myself with the work of people like Mark Lentczner, Lance Massey and Walter Werzowa, who all have very interesting approaches and have made some of the most recognisable sounds on earth. What they do is composition, it’s what I do, but for me, this project had a challenge in that not only is it composition with emotion and function, it’s composition in miniature. Most of my time is spent creating installations and pieces of 10, 20 or 30 minutes. Everything I was going to create for the T7 was needed to be under 1 second. I had to say a lot with very little!

Starting out, I very much considered the full range of Bowers & Wilkins speakers and headphones, their look, their feel, their sound.  My overwhelming sense was of the craftsmanship that goes into each item they produce. Everyone on the team is passionate about music and sound, as too are those who invest in Bowers & Wilkins products. This was foremost in my mind and I was looking for a way to match up that artisanship and care in my palette of sound icons.

It led me to focus on working with acoustic instruments. Not a conventional approach I know. We have associations with particular sounds, we recognise that instruments are acoustic from experience. I started by working with both a harpist and a clarinetist. Experimenting and appraising both, extended and traditional techniques of play. As the months passed, I continued to have meetings with Jason and a small team at Bowers & Wilkins HQ in London. The build phase was progressing and my prototype was continually being updated. Between us, we were selecting, editing and debating. I wrote many variations of icons, using traditional notation, for our growing functions. The technological innovations and developments were constantly influencing my work and I continued to evolve my methodology.

In the end, it was like a good film soundtrack,  a case of simplifying and reducing. Sometimes I fought my corner for a millionth of a second, a single note – it can be hard to let things go, when you’ve grown fond of them. Other times, the verdict was unanimous. One of the most difficult things is interpreting nuance and emotion, even as the creator, I find my view and most importantly mood will shift over time. Teeny tiny files pinged back and forth across the Atlantic. Many variations on succinct.

It’s been a wonderful project; challenging, insightful and exciting being part of a team that formed this chrysalis that’s emerged from it’s cocoon!”  Mira Calix





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