Music Corner: The Sound of Green

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Music is meant to be shared. Sure, you can listen to music all alone with your fancy headphones that cover half your head, but once
the track begins to pick up, and you feel like belting it, you have to set the music free. Over the years, mobile audio technology has
given us many options by which to share music. We have external speakers, wireless receivers and built-in speakers, all of which work okay, but each with their individual shortcomings. Internal speakers almost always lack oomph and the slim and fat design of most portable electronics really don’t lend themselves to projecting sound; you need space for that. External speaks are nice, but usually require their own power source in order to function. Plus, all of these manufactured accessories take a lot of resources to mass produce, inherit the same short-ish lifespan of other electronics, and eventually have to be disposed of in a long, circuitous, time consuming manner. We need to share our music, but how can we do it with less, while getting the sound we want?

Two friends from Cebu, Koh Onozawa and Franz Ignacio, an anthropologist and furniture designer, respectively, asked themselves that question, and with typical Filipino ingenuity, came up with an answer: the Loudbasstard. The initial concept came about in an unremarkable fashion. Franz, Koh, and Koh’s girlfriend were out, sharing a few drinks, when Julie MacGyvered a smartphone speaker booster from a cup to share their music.

One thing led to another, and this enterprising duo combined their talents to design, manufacture and market a totally green, simple solution that was elegant, effective, and could be produced through means that empowered local communities.

The concept couldn’t be simpler. Eschewing Julie’s original cup design, the duo hit the drawing board. Being well-versed in the intricacies of manufacturing with wood, Franz knew the best way to go about it was to create a product that needed little assembly, and so decided they would have to steer away from nails, which would add both cost and labor into the equation.

Several prototypes were created, each with characteristics that they wanted, and some that needed changing. In the end, the pair went with bamboo: an easily-obtainable, cheap, renewable raw material that, when properly treated, can last forever. Through trial and error, they narrowed the design down to the product we see today, which gives a very balanced sound; neither too much, nor too little treble, and enough volume to fill a room, with the simple mechanics of a bamboo tube.

The Loudbasstard is devilishly simple. It’s a bamboo tube, with rattan around the base, a slot in which a smartphone fits handily, an angled mouth, and cutouts on either side of a flattened bottom. This combination of internal volume, strategically-located grooves and a large front bounces the sound around nicely, giving a smartphone’s speaker a little meat behind it, focusing the direction of the sound, and letting it open up in a way that a flat speaker face just can’t do, all with materials you can grow in your back yard. The final product is organically treated to keep wood-eating creatures away, and cured to withstand our humid tropical weather.

The device itself is effective to say the least. We expected to bump the sound quality of a mediocre phone to be tolerable, but once we popped it into the slot, it actually became pleasant. One can orient the speaker in different directions based on how the device is places into the slot, so you will need to do a little experimenting with the phone’s angle and facing to get the warm, loud sound you want. Some configurations are bassier or have greater treble than others, so if you favor one sound or the other, the Loudbasstard has you covered.

Apart from the obvious benefits of using entirely sustainable materials that can be harvested and disposed of with as little environmental impact as possible, the Loudbasstard project empowers communities. The wealth of natural resources and skilled craftsmen in Cebu mans production not only brings revenue to the region in general, but to individuals the group trains and trusts to produce each unit. From the initial smartphone-in-a-cup concept, the Loudbasstard team now has distributors in Cebu, Manila and Mindanao, here in the Philippines, and overseas in Switzerland, Italy, and Canada. Their vision does not stop there, as they want this product and the marvel of Filipino design and ingenuity to reach all the corners of the globe.