idea came about around 2001-2002. While working to
ship a big project, some co-workers and I were recovering from an
in-house corporate dinner and began expounding on the limitations of
I have no idea how the conversation drifted
there, but we ended up talking about how stereo, while good, was just
too limiting. We all had our DVD theater setups at home, and
surround sound had our attention.
theaters had made huge advancements, portable audio
was just too
limiting. The new 'iPod' thing seemed to be the wave of the
future, and it seemed like a natural leap to go from stereo digital
music to full 5.1 surround sound.
But how to
We threw some ideas around:
headphones with a piezo-gyro that
would, based on how you
head, adjust the sound to emulate listening to it in a surround
environment. It would smoothly adjust itself so that if you
held your head in one direction for more than a few seconds (eg, you
were walking in a different direction), the 'center' would gradually
swing towards directly in front of you.
- Integral headphones
with more than one speaker per ear,
processing to trick the ear into thinking it's getting sounds from
- An advanced algorithm
using the type
of logic in the most sophisticated new sound cards that could somehow
emulate surround with only two speakers, like in the Soundblaster
that the actual answer was the Audio
examined logically, it just makes sense. The
has a stiff brim, curled at the edge for strength so you can
hang a lot of weight from it. This curl has the added benefit
of created a 'protected area' for your digital audio
live. With speakers arrayed around the head and facing
inwards, you could enjoy the wonders of surround sound without the
bulky limitations of carrying around a Radio Flyer wagon with a pile of
heavy home theater equipment, up until now the only alternative.
threw the idea around, then eventually headed back to work.
The product shipped, time passed, our careers moved in different
directions, and gradually, the Audio
faded into history.
forward to 2006. While working on one of my many projects of
questionable relevance, I remembered that distant coversation and began
to wonder whether I should just do it for fun. During a trip
to LA at the end of April, I spoke with a friend about the idea, and as
I described it, I became more and more enthusiastic.
in Oregon, I began, as the months passed, to plot. Gradually,
I put together a list of materials I'd need. In depth, and
with great ceremony, I drew up the following detailed notes on a piece
of paper, transcribed for the sake of history:
speakers. Have glue. One night to build?"
the project documentation above in hand, I was ready.
Obstacle the first
is not as easy to find in Eugene, OR as you might
imagine. I visited various stores locally that specialize in
mexican foodstuff/products. I'd walk in and apologetically
ask if they had Sombreros for sale. It was weird, I was
uncomfortable asking, as if I was going to offend them. Each
time, the answer was no. Some of them had extensive hat
collections, but they were mostly cowboy hats. The cowboy
hat, I discovered during this project, is the modern descendent of the
One of the shops
suggested I check a costume place. I called around.
Apparently, the Sombrero
isn't the kind of thing most of the local
I turned to the Internet.
had a number of Sombreros available, but they either
didn't have pictures or the prices were too high. "sombrero
for sale" and "sombrero
dollars" didn't give me what I wanted
either. "paris hilton sombrero"
didn't either, not sure why I
thought it would.
Finally, it was time to check
Surprisingly, eBay's selection in Sombrero
related merchandise was very complete. Sombrero
patches for leather jackets, Videos for sale of people wearing
Sombreros, they had it all. Most importantly, they had actual
Sombreros. Some of the vintage 100 year old one were nice to
look at, but I was thinking that modifying a family heirloom in the
manner I intended would be quite right. There were straw
sombreros, something I didn't even know existed, but it wasn't what I
was looking for. After a bit of searching, I found The
Auction. For about $25 shipped, I had a fine felt sombrero
with sequins and decorative rope braids delivered to my door.
Next, I began collecting
speakers. A visit to the dollar store got me a tiny while
stereo speaker intended for MP3 or CD players. Cost,
$1. Sadly, it was their last one, so I couldn't use these
tiny units for all of my audio
needs. At home, I found a nice
looking pair of unamplified Sony speakers that were perfect, but I was
still missing a center channel to go in front. Perhaps this
is a good moment to discuss the missing channel.
› No subwoofer?
Early on in the
I determined that the subwoofer
just wouldn't be part of the Mark I Audio
to avoid having a power source on the hat, and I couldn't find a sub
that was small enough. I knew that there were some expensive
sony headphones with an inducer that would rest on the back of the
wearers neck, but it just didn't seem practical. Back in
2001, we had talked about mounting the subwoofer in the center of the
hat, but cheap portable woofer technology just hadn't gotten to where I
needed it by February, 2007.
Obstacle the second
I told my wife what I was looking for, and she did her best to
help. She found some promising looking speakers at 'Big
Lots', but when she got home, we realized they were amplified and
needed a DC adapter.
A trip to Frys
was in order. Frys
is a great and terrible place to
shop. It's the kind of place where you go to buy a Brita
water filter, then walk out the door with $600 in computer equipment
and get home before realizing that you've forgotten to get the filter.
nearest Frys is 1.5 hours from Eugene,
so I drove up in the middle of
February to get the parts to upgrade my computer and maybe find some
more speakers. I found a $10 pair of the exact same Sony
unamplified speakers that I had in hand. It was kismet.
home, I set to work. My choice of glue was the new
Polyethylene stuff from Elmers that has a Minotaur on the
front. Apparently, if you're trapped in a labyrinth as a
sacrifice by your people, this is the kind of glue you need.
propped up the hat and carefully began attaching speakers. I
used electrical tape to mechanically hold them in place while the glue
dried. Amazingly, I was succesful in avoiding drippage onto
furniture, a first. I started with the surround
channels. Once dried, it was firmly in place. I had
planned on driving a screw & washer through the brim to hold
it, but the glue was very strong.
the stereo channels. 90 degrees opposed from the front of the
hat, they aim inwards. I braced them with tape, and after
they dried, I tackled the remaining center channel. After
some soul searching, I decided to cut one of the unamplified speakers
off of the stereo jack but decided to leave an inch or so of cable so
that a sub channel could optionally be added at some point in the
used a razor to cut a slit near
the back of the hat to run the cables through. I threaded
them through the decorative rope where possible to keep them from
flopping about, then pushed the plugs through the brim so they were
clustered together at the back of the hat.
done, I had to stop to admire the hat. Instead of looking
completely outlandish, it seemed to come together pretty
well. With all the impartiality of a parent, I modeled it in
front of my bathroom mirror and decided it looked perfect.
is all about
being suave.The stereo speakers were
mounted to the outside
of the brim and
consequently pointed outwards slightly, maybe 30 degrees. The
same applied to the center channel, which looked kind of like the head
to a donkey. I considered the decorative possibilities of
this, then decided against doing anything that would make the hat look
brought it into work and casually wore it around the office.
Nonchalantly, I'd walk through the cube farms. People I'd
pass would look up, do a double take, and then 9 times out of 10, would
smile and get it. The remaining folks asked me what it was,
and when I described it, nodded thoughtfully, often before suggesting
that I should make more.
problem... I couldn't really try it out! As far as
I know, none of the portable audio
devices support full surround
sound. The Audio
was literally ahead of its
time! I considered plugging it into the surround channels on
the back of a PC, then dismissed that as far too practical.
Finally, I found a partial solution. I had purchased a new
MP3 player for my wife that had dual headphone outputs.
Whoever came up with this idea is brilliant, it can give music to two
people at the same time.
the stereo and surround channels into this and started a
song. While technically not surround sound (it was just the
same stereo channels repeated in the front and back), the difference
was immediate. I know logically that I only have two ears,
but I swear that I could hear the music behind me as well as around
me. Maybe the ear has more flexibility than I think it does,
or I'm really good at convincing myself, but each of the people to whom
I demoed it in this configuration were surprised at the audio
quality. Especially considering how poorly unamplified
speakers like this traditionally work.
discovered something else, wearing an Audio
is much more
social than headphones. With headphones, you're isolated from
your surroundings. People don't talk to you, it's hard to be
in a conversation with them on because people can't tell if you can
hear or gauge your involvement. It's very
anti-social. The Audio
on the other hand, is like
the Nintendo Wii of speakers. Other folks hear the music, but
unobtrusively, and they can still talk to you like a normal
person. Well, as normal as anyone wearing a sombrero
speakers can be considered, anyhow.
it outI did the project with one goal in
Shipping it to the two folks I had formed this with after dinner all
those years ago. My intention: to send it to them out of the
blue. I wanted it to be a little bit surreal, and continuing
a five year old conversation by having the hat show up at their door
unexpectedly seemed like the perfect foil. It's a gift, a
little art project from a friend who wanted to do something a little
After I finished it, I swore some of
my other LA friends to secrecy. I sent them photos, but asked
them to embargo the info until the package was there. One
thing I couldn't do, however, was avoid teasing one of the targets with
messages to the effect of 'It's coming'. I wanted to do
something similar to an Apple pre-announcement campaign where, once you
knew the answer, you realized that the clues were in front of you the
Jerry, my target, was
agitated. "It's Coming." I messaged him, then signed out just
as he responded to the effect of "WTF? What? What's
days later, I repeated the
message, then clammed up. I sent a photo of the glue and the
empty plastic package from one of the speakers on my project bench with
the word 'Deslumbrara' (spanish for "To be dazzled" and phoneticaly
similar to Sombrero)
superimposed. The trailing "A" in the
word has an accent, and I carefully edited it to be a small musical
note. I was met with a fleet of question marks from
Jerry. I could tell that he was trying to figure out whether
I was being coy about something interesting or just tiresome.
Maybe a little from column A, a little from column B.
shipped the hat (So long, buddy! You are going to a better
place!) to Brendon (the other target), then messaged Jerry with an
extreme closeup of some of the sequins and braids and the tracking
following addition from Brendon, the recipient:
received in Santa Monica
- After inspection by bomb sniffing dogs, Brendon opens the package
while Jerry cowers behind the door, in case it is a bomb
nice project. However, there are some problems in the
workmanship. Maybe you are simulating what to expect from
gang of child workers in Indonesia. The front speaker had
loose from its adhesive, and dangles in front of the eyes (see Jerry's
Thank you, Ben.
It'll be a real conversation piece!
were to do do a little bit of art, to take a casual after dinner
funstorming session and make it real, and to make a couple friends
think the world is just a little bit stranger than they thought it was.
forward... well, I had only meant to make the one as a
joke/art project, but after wearing it, now I'm thinking about the Mark
Hmmm... what features will IT have?