Amplifying Nature–Jessica Bizzoni's 'Sound Zen Gardens'
For some of us, there is nothing that quite matches up to the feeling of listening to the rain. The soft pitter-patter, touching the streets, windows, trees, and plants outside, is unmatched by any other sound. We love it quietly, without much fanfare and acknowledgment.
Similar, and yet entirely different, is the half-pensive, half-playful sound of crunching gravel beneath our feet. As children, we have boisterously skidded across sheets of gravel–driveways, back gardens and so on; as adults, we have found this very crackle of small stones beneath our feet to be therapeutic. Some of us have been lucky, and have seen gravel in its ultimate glory–raked and etched to perfection in a Japanese Zen Garden.
It is these capsules of the landscape, with the sensations and moods they carry with them, that are at the center of designer Jessica Bizzoni's research–'Sound Zen Gardens'. It is these sensorial experiences that she recreates with her design and heightens. Jessica's research and design molds a site- specific installation, intended for the peaceful Dutch village of Veenhuizen, and its natural soundscape.
Jessica's proposed intervention takes two physical forms. The first is the 'Rain Flower Walk'–three clusters of tall and slender, metal, flower-like forms. The metal flowers amplify the sounds of falling rain, each in different ways. Together, these spaced groups of flowers create a rhythm of sounds, palpable as one walks along one of Veenhuizen's most frequently traversed paths. The alternating sounds of the rain and its amplified brother from the flowers force people to experience nature in a magnified way.
Another form that Jessica generates is the 'Willow Compass'–a bramble of Willow branches that are pulled around a tree–creating meditative concentric rings in the gravel below, and generating that satisfying rustling sound, that we are unknowingly drawn to.
Making 'Rain Flower Walk'
Each metal Rain Flower that shapes this walk is composed of a circular disc, nuts and bolts, and a bent, curved stem made of stainless steel. The discs are made from sheet metal that is passed through a mold. The result is an organic, natural look, but also changed tones of reflected sounds–the pitter-patter of raindrops.
For creating variety in the noise-pitches of reflected from these discs, Jessica used two thickness of the sheet metal. She explored how different dimensions of the flowers' discs amplify sounds differently, and learned that the larger the flower's radius, the longer the sustain and more amplified the sound of each drop.
Process, testing in-situ, and display at Dutch Design Week
Jessica's research for Sound Zen Gardens–her graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven–began in the beautiful landscape of Veenhuizen. Here, she collected cues for design and recorded the natural soundscape, which continued to serve as a reference during the design process.
After determining the right materials for Rain Flower Walk, the first prototypes were made in metal. At this point, Jessica returned to the site in Veenhuizen, where she tested multiple locations and positions of the individual 'Rain Flowers'. Those trials were the opportunity she needed, to test the quality of sound being generated by the flowers, and to observe how it varied with the speed of walking, running or cycling, and how it interacted with the original soundscape of Veenhuizen.
At Dutch Design Week 2016, last month, Jessica displayed her research and experiments for the Sound Zen Gardens in multiple formats and scales–from small-scale models to full-size prototypes and audio and visual aids, all to transport visitors entirely to the rainy, gravelly landscape of Veenhuizen.
The response to this whimsical, serene, and immersive installation was terrific. Not only people from the Netherlands, who were familiar with the site but foreign visitors were curious and appreciative–many wondering and asking if the project was already built in this location so that they could visit it.
This interest in an as-yet-unbuilt project seems to make perfect sense when one listens to the sound of water droplets falling on Jessica Bizzoni's 'Rain Flowers'. This delicate cluster of metal flowers, paired with rain, seems to have the capacity to whisk us away to a sublime sensorial experience.