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These hand-thrown clay speakers combine tech with sustainability

Usually, clay pots are used to store food or used as décor, but a Chilean studio has designed pottery with an unconventional purpose: music.

Created by Documentary Design co-founders Pablo Ocqueteau and Philine von Düszeln, the Mapuguaquén clay speakers combine wireless tech with sustainability through the use of organic materials and traditional crafting techniques.

The hand-thrown speakers are available in mono and stereo, and feature eco-friendly materials, such as clay for the pot, felted wool and leather that insulate the inner components, and local wood for the driver’s cones.

In an email interview with Lost At E Minor, the studio explained how this unique design provides for an excellent listening experience.

“The clay of our vases is fired at more than 1100°C for several hours, and becomes a very sturdy material, with high density and little natural oscillation.

“The spherical shape of the resonance body is also beneficial for the transmission behavior of the speakers in two ways. It avoids sharp resonances inside the vessel and smoothens out the focusing effect of the housing at high frequencies outside.

“This leads to a more life-like interaction between the sound source and the room and broadens the area of the sweet spot.”

All in all, the speakers are composed of 80 percent biodegradable materials – a game-changer, considering most audio equipment end up as e-waste.

And even better, the makers – in partnership with a local NGO – plant one native tree for every speaker sold. Now that’s music to our ears.

Documentary Design just wrapped up its Kickstarter campaign for Mapuguaquén, wherein they raised 37,382 Euros (about US$43,900 or AUS$60,400). Keep scrolling below to read the rest of our interview with the team responsible for this innovative product.

What is your motivation for speakers housed in pottery?

“It is a confluence of different convergent motivations:

“SAFEGUARDING CRAFTS TRADITION. Pottery is one of the most ancestral crafts tradition of mankind. Since industrialization, craftsmanship and industry have been moving apart. Nowadays, the crafts have lost their original role and importance in most societies.

“In Chile, same as in many other countries, craft skills are merely used to create souvenirs and have to compete with the prices of industrially-produced plastic products. With Mapuguaquén, we want to give a new perspective to pottery and craftsmanship. We need a crafts revolution!

“MATERIALITY AND ECO-EFFECTIVENESS. We can see how natural resources are also losing their purpose and importance. Noble natural biodegradable materials are replaced by imported plastic products. We want to show that it’s worth it to use these regional, biodegradable materials with amazing characteristics. And that it is even possible to create high-tech products out of them.

“As a small contribution, we also plant one native tree for every speaker that we sell and contribute to the reforestation of the region.

“SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY. Nacimiento (meaning birth) is a small town in the South of Chile where the Mapuguaquén speakers are being produced. It has (one of) the best clays in South America, and a few decades ago, pottery was the main source of labour and income.

“Today, there are very few workshops left in Nacimiento. Its main source of income now is forestry, in the hands of the CMPC holding, which has installed large sawmills and pulp mills.

“Extensive artificial plantings of fast-growing species such as eucalyptus and pine has led to the extinction of native species and has accelerated soil erosion. Also, it has polluted the air and water of the community, putting the health of its inhabitants at risk.

“DESIGN WITH CULTURAL IDENTITY. What is the real design potential of countries like Chile? Many students graduate every year as industrial and product designers, but the industries they can work and design for are almost non-existent. We hope to support future generations of craftsmen through our product.”

Were you ever concerned that the clay material could affect the sound in any way?

“The clay of our vases is fired at more than 1100°C for several hours, and becomes a very sturdy material, with high density and little natural oscillation. The spherical shape of the resonance body is also beneficial for the transmission behavior of the speakers in two ways. It avoids sharp resonances inside the vessel and smoothens out the focusing effect of the housing at high frequencies outside. This leads to a more life-like interaction between the sound source and the room and broadens the area of the sweet spot.”

What was your first prototype like?

“The first prototype was already created in 2009. It had two vessels made of clay, one for the woofer and one for the tweeter, that were connected with some glued speaker membranes usually used for car-tuning. They were colored with shoe polish.

“From that moment till today the shape, materials, acoustics, and electronics have changed completely, but the basic concept is still the same.

How has the final design improved on the initial prototype?

“We first started developing the shape and material. We used other materials like leather, wool, wood, cork and copper. Then we exhibited the prototypes at design fairs like Salone Satellite del Salone del Mobile de Milan and even won a few awards for design, innovation, and sustainability.

“After only we were confident that there was a potential market for our product that we started to develop our own amplifiers and customized membranes together with a team of experienced acoustic engineers – luckily with amazing results!”

What’s it like to develop a product that’s never been done before?

“With time, Mapuguaqén became much more for us than a product. I would even say that the product, in time, became an excuse for the real mission behind it. We want to make a design that helps change paradigms, we want to use ancient knowledge and natural materials to fuse tradition with a sustainable future.

“With Mapuguaquén we didn’t invent pottery, neither BT speakers. It just brought together two things and two ideologies, two ways of working and producing that have never been together before.”

Are you surprised at all that you surpassed your Kickstarter funding goal?

“The first few days were incredible! We passed our initial funding goal in less than two hours, our web server broke down with about 4,500 simultaneous visitors. We had a lot of national and international news coverage! We hardly slept for days, because of all the messages that we had to answer. Really incredible, and more than we had dreamed of.”

What’s your vision for Mapuguaquen?

“Mapuguaquén means The Sound of the Earth in the language of the South American Mapuche people. But Guaquén also means something like a collective outcry. So it is the sound of the Earth, because it is made of the soil of a place. But for us, it also represents the outcry of Mother Earth and of the crafts that are disappearing, to change our way of living and consuming!

“Our vision is to make different limited series of speakers in different continents (and maybe later on also other products) out of regional, natural materials, with the respective unique aesthetics, visual identities and craft-knowledges. And to make our contribution to help to re-think crafts and production methods!”

You can learn more about Mapuguaquén here.

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