Audio-Olfactory Installation “Metronome” at London Design Biennale

Sound, scent, movement and form combine for this evocative invention and experience

Shaped like an infinity symbol, Metronome—debuting now at London Design Biennale—is a sculptural object and experience designed to create a time-bubble for its audience. Inspired in part by pregnancy as well as Swann’s Way (the first volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, first translated into English as Remembrance of Things Past), Metronome is a combination audio-olfactory invention that merges sound elements to evoke forgotten memories and instill tranquility through “tickles.” While the experiential meditation tool was developed over 10 years and changed somewhat, Metronome remains centered on emotion and movement. A collaborative work, the piece has been created by Alter-Projects‘ Anne-Laure Pingreoun; Servaire&Co‘s Sebastien Servaire, Candido De Barro and Gregory Sidoine; with sound and tech from 6Sides, K-array Audio Solutions, 2BHeard, Moodsonic and SetWorks.

Placed on a small mirror plinth, Metronome arcs back and forth just above eye line. Viewers first notice the gentle movements of Metronome, which appear effortless thanks to a careful alignment of magnetic points at the base. “I wanted something that you see time passing, but in a very poetic way instead of something quite harsh,” Servaire tells us. Thus, the long, polished brass wand elegantly flows back and forth while subtly rotating.

The ornately hollowed out “head” of Metronome holds a secret too; no mere sculpture, Metronome is also a powerful emotion diffuser. Inside are individually laced beads with an earthy scent, boasting notes of burnt wood, musk, grass and ginger. Servaire&Co worked with top perfumers to choose each fragrance for its ability to anchor the visitor’s primal parts of the brain into making fast, distinct emotional connections. The diffuser scent configuration changes subtly each time the pendulum swings, thanks to magnets in a painstakingly accurate push-pull configuration which causes time to almost stand still for the viewer.

A motion and scent profile enables “a new semantic and poetic system,” says Servaire. Scent and movement alone would be enough to keep Metronome in the sculptural space, but the fragrance mixed with a precise resonance frequency pushes the experience further.

Each movement of the central element changes the environment for the viewer thanks to the discreet soundscape created by Moodsonic. The piece utilizes K’Array’s Azimut audio system to render a spine-tingling effect for the viewer. “No two seconds could ever be the same for any viewer,” says Pingreoun, founder of Alter-Projects and curator behind Metronome.

Metronome isn’t just stunning to experience though; there’s a poignant message behind the piece and what Servaire’s hoping viewers will take away. “Responsibility, I think, with wellness. I wanted to create the template and work with surprise. Now is an interesting time to innovate and push boundaries. If you’d asked me 10 years ago whether I could have created something like Metronome, I would probably have said no. It wasn’t the right time. Being able to bring fragrance, wellness and other elements together is just the right moment… the right answer.”

Metronome moves to Paris Design Week next for a completely different experience, according to Pingreoun, but fear not if you can’t get to London or Paris, within the next 12 months, you will also be able to buy a scaled-down version of Metronome, seen here for the first time ever. “There will likely be some compromise, but the system will stay as true to the original as possible. The scent is an important part of the piece, and that needs to be right,” says Servaire. The early prototype is half as tall (60cm) and will diffuse different fragrances in any small to medium-sized room in approximately 15 minutes. The currently unnamed miniature version will take some time, as it needs tweaking to create the desired swing and magnet configuration. As Servaire points out, “The grace must not be lost.”

Images courtesy of Servaire&Co and Alpha Kilo