If you can’t be rid of the pandemic, why not transform the clubber? A speculative project has you suiting up like you’re going to encounter Alien or ask to open the pod bay doors – but its futuristic features are all real and doable, right now.
Micrashell, announced this week, is the work of Production Club, a creative studio who specialize in immersive experiences and have worked with everyone from The Chainsmokers and Skrillex to Amazon. Of course, that also means that like the rest of us in the arts, they’ve also got time on their hands to ponder what to do when there’s no audience.
And the results are wild. This suit doesn’t just protect you from the virus. It also integrates a phone, the ability to vape (yeah, really) or sip on a drink, and reimagines how you might communicate and hear sound. Read on, because that includes the ability to mute people in a way that has to be the coolest made-up notion in sound since Get Smart‘s Cone of Silence.
It’s extreme, but like good speculative work, as you dig in, you find creative ideas that could lead somewhere. And part of speculative work is sometimes to define a scenario in such a way that you might choose its opposite.
Is it a workable solution to the current situation? Well, no, probably not, given that vital protective equipment isn’t available to front-line health workers. But we’re already seeing strangely science fiction scenarios we wouldn’t have imagined before – and the 1918 pandemic victims certainly wouldn’t have envisioned digital tracking or drone surveillance on one hand, or sophisticated protein sequencing to produce faster vaccines on the other.
There are real ideas to be explored here, and there’s no question the global notion of what you would wear has shifted, just as the pandemic a century ago inspired masks. So it’s worth pulling this apart and understanding why – and how – it could be made.
Mike808 (Miguel Risueño), Head of Innovations, tells us more.
CDM: You’ve done of course some major event production. Can you tell us where you come from that led to this work, and this project?
Miguel: Jaja, thanks! My background is originally in music technology and audiovisual engineering. My current resume on events started by designing the stage for my own DJ show 12 years ago. ^_^ From there, it kept escalating; we started Production Club in 2012 and that’s how I worked with Zhu, Skrillex, Zedd, Martin Garrix, Chainsmokers, Notch (Creator of Minecraft), Intel, Amazon, YouTube Gaming and some other cool cats.
How about this project? Obviously, it’s partly imaginative and speculative, which is great but – was there any consultation of people who could tell you a bit about how to make something like this work?
The idea was born in a brainstorming session where we tried to vomit as many ideas as we could on “how to solve this problem” – [that problem] being, the concert and event industry going to s***. Our background comes from “if it doesn’t exist, then go build it”, so that’s what we are doing.
The design – as you well said – is speculative and imaginative in nature, because that’s pretty much the only way we know to come up with big ideas. Production’s Club mentality is always concept comes first, execution after. So far we have always been able to figure out how to successfully build our ideas, but of course, this is an especially ambitious one. I always remember a quote from the last Miyazaki movie [Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises] that said something like “Inspiration unlocks the future. Technology eventually catches up.” And I feel that perfectly synthesizes our mindset.
We consulted some third parties we believed necessary when designing the suit – this was mainly a doctor, a biologist, a sport scientist, a systems architect, and a fashion designer. The concept design team on the suit itself is also pretty badass and already known for some of our best designs (Sadgas, Juan Civera, Fran Zurita and this cat). Finally, we have a Technical Director in-house who’s main responsibility is to figure out how to build what we design (scenic, lighting, production, automation, spatial, etc.) so all those + a bunch of other Production Club badass members helped to get where we are. [Check Sadgas’ site for more conceptual 3D work from this Spanish designer, including wild suits and designs.]
There’s a sonic element, too? Sub resonators? Is this something like a more elaborate take on the SubPac (immersive audio system)? Or how does it work?
Yes! There’s a sonic element to this which is one of the most important parts. The SubPac-ish system is cool, but what is most interesting is the audio and music processing. Since the suit can be used in a club with a pre-existing audio system or just on its own we have defined three ways to listen to music.
One way is by using the integrated external mics to feed the internal speakers, kinda like when you go to the bank and talk to the cashier. Another one would be more like a silent disco, where the DJ or FOH [front of house sound] directly streams pure audio to the different Micrashell suits out there.
The final one is kind of a mix of the two — a direct feed from the DJ gets processed using spatial and psychoacoustic rules, so the audio that the user perceives feels more realistic and “club-like” even if the club doesn’t have a PA. At the end of the day, it’s a way of tricking the brain to make everything more real and immersive, as being inside of the suit will isolate you on some level.
I saw some other specific sound features, you’re proposing — machine learning analyses of sounds, or a “software system that allows you to control the audio levels of different sources individually”?
The part of this you can’t see is the fact that you can decide to “not listen” to somebody, based on certain rules that you define. It’s similar to privacy settings on a social network but with audio. So, for example, if you are dancing by yourself and don’t want to be bothered, you could create a rule where only your friends or friends of friends can talk to you. The voice signal is digitally controlled so we can do things like that. Of course there are other [use cases], like having different levels and processing paths for different people or music sources.
Have you constructed any of these elements before, in other contexts? Are you building anything now? (Are you also making cloth masks like so many of us?)
Jajaja, didn’t have the time to make the masks myself, although I do love sewing.
Regarding having built some of these items before… most of the ideas come from stuff that already exists, or that we have built before, or that we are positive that could be built. Creating a suit that could go “straight into production” was one of our main design constraints since day one. Funny enough, we already created a hi-tech suit for Skrillex’s show years ago, although it had nothing to do with this one. ^_^
Had you already thought of partners who might be up for this, or who might be interested in the concept?
Currently, we are working in our own prototype which is based on what we can get done in-house with our 3D printers (Form [from Formlabs] and Prusa), sewing machines, Arduino [hardware prototyping platform], and Unreal Engine [3D/graphics platform].
But this is actually the right step before anything else; otherwise we won’t be able to tell a potential fabricator or partner what’s really needed or where are they f***ing up. >_< Fortunately, a lot of unexpected people and brands have already contacted us, but there’s not much I can say yet besides that.
Lastly, where are you now? How are you spending the lockdown, especially with events off for a while?
We have temporarily closed our design studio in DTLA [downtown Los Angeles] to comply with the social distancing orders. Physical events are cancelled for a while yes but that’s why we are working to bring em back soon! At this very specific moment, I’m blasting Noisia Radio in my home studio, it’s 1 am, and my two cats are fkn around trying to break shit — actually, one is sleeping, as that’s pretty much all he does, I have realized during this quarantine.
And full specs:
• Seamless integration and suit control based on smartphone app
• Connection provided to charge/recharge phones/devices
• Wireless voice communication system based on physical proximity and orientation
• Privacy driven communication system based on user-defined rules for social interaction.
– Everyone can speak to you
– Only certain groups of people (i.e. people in your contact list)
– Specific people you select
• Software system that allows you to control the audio levels of different sources individually (DJ,
ambiance, friend_1, friend_2, … friend_n)
• Voice subsystem that allows you to modify how your voice is presented/streamed to other
users in real time – think like AR filters for audio – for example vocoder, talkbox, octaver, pitch
• Internal (voice) and external (ambiance) microphones
SOUND SYSTEM & AUDIO PROCESSING
• Integrated, controllable internal speaker system that allows you to listen to live music in 3
– Directly streamed from the DJ/band (dry)
– As an emulation of the room’s sound based on psychoacoustics (wet)
– As a passthrough from the room thanks to the suit’s embedded microphon
• Contact bass speaker cones integrated in the back area to transmit low frequencies under
150hz by direct contact with the user’s body
BASIC NEEDS & SUIT HANDLING
• “Top only” suit design allows the user to wear their normal clothes, use the toilet and engage in
intercourse without being exposed to respiratory risks
• Hand latch system to facilitate dressing and undressing the suit
FASHION ACCESSORIES & ADD-ONS
• Accessible NFC pouch
• Strap system allowing expandable garment to fit people of different sizes
• Quick attachment features across the pouch and suit allowing for add-ons and fashion
customization (i.e. patches, velcro, magnets, hooks)
• Supply system based on partially disposable canisters allows users to vape and/or drink safely
from your suit. Drink can be alcoholic, non-alcoholic or a liquid meal replacement
• Snap system based on magnets and differentiated plug-in shape makes it easy to plug your
canister in the proper slot
• Remaining amount of drink and vape monitored through canister embedded RGB light and
• This system removes the possibility of being roofied as the drink remains enclosed
inside of a custom canister and not exposed to external agents once the user starts
• This system allows for pre-made drinks so long lines at the bar could be mitigated or
• Supply nozzles are controlled from smartphone app and have 4 modes each: clean, fully
deployed, fully retracted and scratch mode (doubles as a stick to allow to reach different
parts of the face)
User customized monitoring and emotion broadcast lighting system comprised of
several groups of screens and addressable RGBWA SMD LEDs to serve as indicators of
the user’s mood, needs, warnings, messages, desires and more. For example, a rainbow
lighting chase effect across your suit can express joy, while a static red light could
express “busy” or a “green” slowly intermittent shimmering light could express “idle” or
Pan + tilt camera system with RGB LED monitoring has three main functionalities:
– “Camera app” function as an added extra POV camera that connects with your phone to
take snaps and videos
– Proactive computer vision safety recording based on AI analysis of external agents can
be set up to record based on the system’s perceived level of threat or just “trigger
word” that records remotely based on cloud platform
– “Chest eye” system that allows you to see in realtime things that your suit or helmet
subsystems might be occluding