The Ambient Sole
Sarah Beth Evans
North Carolina State University
About this Kit
The sounds of students moving through the hallways are an everyday part of the college environment—an essential, if often unnoticed, element in the milieu of the academy. To those who travel through the corridors, the sounds of students' movement are an afterthought, a singly repetitive noise among many they may hear in the commotion between classes. Footsteps are a subtlety of college hallways, and when combined with other elements, such as temperature and airflow, they create a ubiquitous ambient environment experienced daily by members of the academy. However, disruption through a sudden and drastic change in one or more elements can call the ambience of the environment to the forefront of consciousness. Disruptions may occur via shifts in temperature, lighting quality or, as we argue: a surprising sound emerging from an unexpected place. It is this special circumstance, the disruption of mobility through sound, to which the Ambient Sole speaks, asking, "What happens when the everydayness of one's movement through space is disrupted?"
To answer this question we designed and constructed a digital engagement piece, the Ambient Sole, that takes the form of an inconspicuous floor mat. The quotidian nature of the mat's aesthetic sets the stage for the interruption of one's environment as s/he moves through space. Beneath the mat's surface lies a series of pressure sensors connected to an Arduino microprocessor, which is coded to play an MP3 file each time a sensor is triggered. Participants may trigger different sounds for each individual sensor, and with each step collisions between human and nonhuman bodies elicit new disruptions in the ambient environment. These disruptions disturb movers' activity and provide opportunities to contemplate the elicitation of sound through their contact with the mat, which was until that moment just another part of the environment. In disrupting ambient environs, the Ambient Sole reveals both the human and non-human agency of spaces that shape our everyday lives.
This kit includes code sketches for Arduino and Bare Conductive Touch Board, assembly instructions (in print and slideshow formats), and video documentation of the Ambient Sole. The kit is designed so that even the most novice of users can create a working mat by assembling the pieces, and loading their preferred sounds into the onboard MP3 player. In just a short amount of time, all users can engage with the souls of their shoes.