An English-language series of events called “Resonances” was launched at the FUTURE FORUM by BMW Welt on the subject of sound. The series is hosted by Renzo Vitale, Creative Director Sound at BMW Group. Kicking off with “Soundscapes of Electrification”, Renzo and our selected experts Prof. Dr. André Fiebig (Professor of Psychoacoustics at TU Berlin), Emma Frid (Postdoctoral Researcher at IRCAM/KTH Royal Institute of Technology) and Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto, Artist, Musician and Label Owner), embarked on a multi-faceted journey through the various aspects of sound.
We explored the idea of a soundscape of tomorrow and particularly the relation of sound and electrification. Even if the concept of electricity is not recent, the topic of electrification has been gaining attention in the past few years, specifically caused by the impact of electric vehicles. With the evolution of drive trains, the sonority of cars is a rapidly advancing field of research. Renzo Vitale carries the responsibility to “define the sonic statics of the BMW fleet”. He works together with a "team of hundreds" in order to create sounds that will fill our streets. One of the team’s main tasks at BMW is the sound of electric cars on the exterior. The principles of their work are the vast impacts that sound has on people’s lives. Renzo insists that sound as we know it is information, “but sound is also emotion”. Therefore the sound of an electric car has to enable the driver to express his emotions. Renzo thinks “a car is a highly complex performative art installation”. This theory guides and inspires him when composing the sound of future cars.
In 2019 BMW joined forces with famed composer Hans Zimmer. Zimmer took on the role of official composer and curator of BMW IconicSounds Electric, a program which will bring sheer electric driving pleasure to our customers with exciting drive sounds in future vehicles.
How should a city of the future sound?
Our first guest was Prof. Andre Fiebig, Professor of Psychoacoustics at TU Berlin. In his talk he focussed on the question “how we can improve the noise of objects and cities, so it is not disturbing when we hear and feel it” while creating new urban soundscapes.
The emergence of alternative drive trains, mobility behaviour changes and the desire for new ways of life can form the framework for new urban soundscapes. Prof. Fiebig’s talk explored how those social and technological changes could be effectively applied for sustainable environmental noise protection and innovative noise action planning. When asking how a city of the future should sound, “the answer is diversification and uniqueness. In a city we need exciting and fascinating places as well as places where we can calm down.” He also emphasized that “in the past we thought, sound needed to be minimalized but this is not always constructive, as it is also a resource to evoke emotions. Sounds that influence humans negatively can be balanced out with sounds that have a positive effect, like the sound of water in an area that is very busy.”
How can we use sonic interaction design to enable diversity and inclusion?
Our second guest is Emma Frid, a Postdoctoral Researcher at IRCAM/KTH Royal Institute of Technology. In her talk she highlighted the field of accessible sound and music technology. Emma explained how multimodal interfaces and human-AI interaction can be used to promote inclusion in music-making. “How can we ensure sonic interaction design of the future? Try to widen participation among the designing and creative team and a user centred approach.” When developing sonic interfaces of the future, Emma uses the principles of musical instrument design. Music instruments can be perceived not only by hearing but also by other senses, they are multimodal. Her believe is “that […] sonic interaction interfaces have to combine several senses like hearing, sight and touch.”
She concluded her talk asking to “broaden the participation in our design work” so that “future sonic interaction design will aim to produce rich musical interactions exploding the full potential of the modal strengths of each and every user rather than pointing out their weaknesses of certain user groups.”
A conversation with two artists. Sound and light are like Yin and Yang.
Last but not least, artist and label owner Carsten Nicolai/Alva Noto joined Renzo Vitale on our FUTURE FORUM stage. In their conversation, Renzo and Carsten delved into the artistic process of developing contemporary electronic music. By integrating snippets of Alva Noto’s art, the audience experienced his music installations themselves.
In his artistic beginnings, Carsten created a process where “a light event happens at the same time and is connected to a sound event.” In his works there has always been “a strong interface between both”, “Sound and light are like Yin and Yang. They are connected.”
Carsten also shared an interesting thought on art: “Artistically, let’s say, in terms of music […] the most successful process appeared when things are merged and connected from different types of fields. Every kind of isolation or specialization is not so helpful in developing something for the future.” Interfaces are really important elements in the future; sound is an important element in the interface, but not the only one. It will depend [on] how we are using it.”
If you want to watch Carsten’s magnificent and powerful artwork or want to know more about the topics highlighted above, please watch the video. Thank you to all participants for joining us on this event.
Renzo Vitale is an Italian pianist, composer, sound designer, acoustic engineer and artist. His creative process involves an interrogation of the relation between music, science and human perception.
Renzo holds a PhD in Acoustics from RWTH University (Germany), two Master degrees (in Electronic Engineering and in Piano) as well as further studies in electronic music, composition and conducting.
In 2015 he joined the Research & Innovation Center of BMW Group in Munich as a Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) Engineering Specialist. Since 2017 he is responsible for Sound Design at BMW, MINI and Rolls Royce.
Renzo was scientific curator of the Season 2017/2018 of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra with the project Sound and Space. He has been appointed a Fellow of the German Government's Competency Center for the Cultural and Creative Industries and he also is a board member of SPIELMOTOR e.V.
Carsten Nicolai is an artist, musician and label owner. In his work he repeatedly crosses the boundaries between different artistic genres, inspired by scientific reference systems. As a musician, Nicolai is one of the most famous representatives of contemporary electronic music and is known under the pseudonym alva noto.
André Fiebig worked from to 2005 to 2018 for the HEAD acoustics GmbH on different topics related to acoustics, psychoacoustics and product sound quality and led a working group concerned with the “Perception and Assessment of Sounds NVH”. Since January 2019 he is a visiting professor in the Engineering Acoustics Department at the Technical University of Berlin teaching psychoacoustics. His special research interest lies in the field of the diverse noise effects on humans with special emphasis on soundscape, psychoacoustics and cognitive stimulus integration of streams of auditory sensations.
Emma Frid is a postdoctoral researcher at IRCAM/KTH Royal Institute of Technology. She holds a PhD in Sound and Music Computing from KTH, where she presented her thesis entitled "Diverse Sounds - Enabling Inclusive Sonic Interaction" in January 2020. Her research focuses on accessible sound/music technology and how multimodal interfaces and human-AI interaction can be used to promote inclusion in music-making.