Renzo Vitale
1,837,631 views • 11:51

Let's start with silence. Silence is one of the most precious conditions for humans, because it allows us to feel the depth of our presence. This is one of the reasons why the advent of electric cars has generated lots of enthusiasm among people. For the first time, we could associate the concept of cars with the experience of silence. Cars can finally be quiet: peace in the streets, a silent revolution in the cities.


But silence can also be a problem. The absence of sound, in fact, when it comes to cars, it can be quite dangerous. Think of blind people, who can't see a car which is approaching. And now, if it's electric, they can't even hear it. Or think of every one of us as we are walking around the city, we are absorbed in our thoughts, and we detach from the surroundings. In these situations, sound can become our precious companion.

Sound is one of the most wonderful gifts of our universe. Sound is emotion and sound is sublime, and when it comes to cars, sound is also information. In order to protect pedestrians and to give acoustic feedback to the drivers, governments around the world have introduced several regulations which prescribe the presence of a sound for electric vehicles. In particular, they require minimum sound levels at specific frequency bands up to the speed of 30 kilometers per hour. Besides this speed, the natural noise of the car is considered as sufficient.

These regulations have generated different reactions among those who favor sounds and those who fear the presence of too much noise in the city. However, I don't see it as the noise of the car. I rather see it as the voice of the car. And this is one of my biggest challenges, and privileges, at the same time.

I design the voice of electric cars. We all know how a combustion engine sounds like, and we do actually also know how an electric engine sounds like. Think of the electric tramway. As soon as it moves, it creates this ascending high-frequency pitch sound, which we called "whistling" sound. However, if we would just amplify this sound, we would still not be able to fulfill the legal requirements. That's also why we need to compose new sound.

So how do we go after it? In many cities, the traffic is already very chaotic, and we don't need more chaos. But the streets of the 21st century are a great case study teeming with transience, cross purposes and disarray. And this landscape offers a great opportunity for developing new solutions on how to reduce this chaos.

I have conceived a new approach that tries to reduce the chaos by introducing harmony. Since many people don't know how an electric car could sound like, I have to define, first of all, a new sound world, something that doesn't belong to our previous experience but creates a reference for the future. Together with a small team, we create lots of sonic textures that are able to transmit emotion. Just like a painter with colors, we are able to connect feelings and frequencies so that whenever one is approaching a car, we can feel an emotion which, besides fulfilling the legal requirements, speaks also about the character and the identity of the car.

I call this paradigm "sound genetics." With sound genetics, I define, first of all, an aesthetic space of sound, and at the same time, I search for new, innovative methods for generating soundscapes that we don't know, soundscapes that allow us to envision abstract worlds, to make them tangible and audible. Sound genetics is based on three steps. The first one is the definition of a sonic organism, the second one is a description of sonic variations, and the third one is the composition of sound genes. The description of a sonic organism is based on a cluster of properties that every sound that I compose should have.

[Sound is moving.]

I transfer to a small sound entity, such as the sound of a car, the power of the motion of music, so that sound can move so.

[Sound is acting.]

And just like a dancer on a stage, sound will project trajectories of sound in the air.

[Sound is memory.]

And it's not just about the sound of a car. It's the memory of my father coming back home.

[Sound is hypnotizing.]

And sound has the power to create an unexpected sense of wonder, which hypnotizes. And ultimately,

[Sound is superhuman.]

sound goes beyond the human condition, because it allows us to transcend. As a second step, we define the sonic variations.

[Identity prism]

Just like humans, where different bodies generate different voices, also different car shapes have a different acoustic behavior which depends on the geometry and the materials. So we have to know, first of all, how this car propagates the sound outside by means of acoustic measurements. And just like a single voice is able to produce different tones and timbres, at the same time, we produce different sonic variations within a space of eight words that I defined. And some of them are, to me, really important, such as the concept of "visionary," of "elegance," of "dynamic," of "embracing." And once we have defined these two aspects, we have what I call the identity prism, which is something like the sonic identity card of a car.

And as a third step, we enter the world of the sound design, where the sound genes are composed and a new archetype is conceived. Now let me show you another example of how I transform a sound field into a melody.

Think that I am a violin player on stage. If I would start to play the violin, I would generate a sound field which would propagate in this hall, and at some point, the sound field would hit the side walls and would be scattered all over the place. And this is how it looked like. Some time ago, I captured several ways of sound to hit side walls. And last year, I was asked by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra to compose ringtones that they were going to play. So one of them, I had the idea to start from this sound field. I took a section, I superimposed the section over the distribution of the musicians onstage, and then I followed the blooming of the sound field by means of three parameters: time, intensity and frequency. Then I wrote down all the gradients for each instrument, and as you can see, for instance, the piece will start with the string section playing very softly, and then it's going to have a crescendo as the brasses, the woods will jump in, and the melody will end with a harp and a piano playing on the highest range.

Let's listen how it sounded like.

(Ethereal music)

(Music ends)

So this is the sound of my alarm clock, actually, in the morning.


And now let's go back to electric cars. And let's listen to the first example that I showed you.


And now I would like to show you how a potential sound, based on the sound genetics for electric cars, could sound like.

(Ethereal music)

(Pitch rises with acceleration)

Cars are a metaphor of time, distance and journey, of setting out and returning, of anticipation and adventure, but, at the same time, of intelligence and complexity, of human intuition and accomplishment. And the sound has to glorify all that.

I see cars both as living creatures and as highly complex performative art installations. The sounds that we envision through sound genetics allow us not only to celebrate this complexity but also to make the world a more elegant and safe space.

Thank you.