Non Too Human

Amy Borley

For the opening weekend of the new Design Museum, the Non Too Human elective on the MA Information Experience Design course at RCA were asked to create sound pieces, influenced by classic design items, chosen by The Design Museum.

I used the Cartoon Chair by Fernando and Humberto Campana as a starting point. The chair is made up of toy Disney characters, designed to be playful and bring out your inner child. This led me to think about what sounds can spark memories of childhood, and how they do this.

e6ca1843d373cca03ed67a1ac2aa8cbcCartoon Chair by Fernando and Humberto Campana Image source

I initially thought about using digital sound, to create recordings and play them back. However, I was drawn to the tactile aspect of the Cartoon Chair, and wanted to provoke this feeling in my own work. I began thinking about what sounds reminded me of childhood. My first response was ice cream vans, and the nursery rhymes they play. I was interested in recreating something with the same aesthetic. I decided to experiment with mechanical music boxes and began to create nursery rhymes by punching holes in pieces of paper, feeding them through the music box, and using the crank to produce the noise.

I felt this method worked well to represent sounds of childhood, however, using nursery rhymes felt too obvious, like something people would have heard too many times before. I looked to children’s books as inspiration, and decided to use the imagery and text as a map for where I punched holes, resulting in uneven melodies, with a great childlike feel.


I wanted my piece to be interactive, and so that people could collaborate whilst using it. I decided to experiment with using several music boxes, with paper sheets of different lengths. I also wanted to create an ongoing piece that would play on a loop. After much experimentation I created one large piece, that could be played on a loop, with many smaller pieces that could be fed through two other individual music boxes.

The piece was a success at the opening of the Design Museum, especially with children. They were drawn in by the bright imagery on the paper, and the sounds they created. I felt the sound attracted people into the space, and they enjoyed the experience and the sounds that they created from my piece.


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