CAVE without a LIGHT

Crafting a "cross-border"
entertainment experience

Imagine: extraordinary music taking aural shape out of a black void,
tapestries of sound woven by ensembles of strangers in the darkness.
That was the vision behind Sony's "CAVE without a LIGHT,"
an interactive exhibit that transcends the borders of nationality, gender, age, and ability
for an all-inclusive entertainment experience.

It all started with a prototype demonstration

CAVE without a LIGHT grew out of a prototype demonstration linking multiple departments, including the Sony Creative Center, the Quality and Environment Dept., and the R&D Center. The prototype used sound—not imagery—to transport people into completely different spaces, leveraging Sony's unique acoustic technologies to create virtual echoes and ambient sounds for an immersive experience. Boasting a compelling ability to elicit powerful sensory reactions without relying on visual perception, the prototype garnered enough attention at Sony to earn a spot in the exhibition space for the Sony booth at SXSW2019—the world’s largest creative business festival.

Knowing that the event would draw crowds from the world over, the development team had to take its prototype to the next level and make the experience even more captivating. For the team, the focus eventually centered on going past just recreating real sensations. By integrating the acoustic technologies with tactile technologies, the designers figured, they could transcend replication and create an entertainment experience in a completely new sensory mold. The concept was set; next came the motif. Inspiration came from a cave-space music festival that was taking place in Texas, where the SXSW event convenes. With that, the team set out to craft the experience of playing music with others within the depths of a dark cave.

Utilizing hearing and touch to create a sensory
awakening for a farther-reaching audience

Once the concept and motif were in place, the designers got into the concrete tasks of designing the actual experience of an in-cave concert. First came the physical setting, a space that would capture the darkness of a cave entirely isolated from external light and sound. The team also started thinking of ideas for the instrumental component, eventually settling on a setup where eventgoers would play bongos together. Serving as the backdrop for the real-life sounds of the playable bongo percussion were a profusion of virtual echoes, bat sounds, and other ambient noise, forming an immersive environment—a convincingly cave-esque atmosphere without any visual cues whatsoever. The team also decided to situate visitors on platforms that would vibrate with the sounds of the bongos. As the rhythmic pulses expanded, with the sounds of over 100 bongo players making their way into the sound collage, the aural excitement and physical, tactile movement would fuse into a dynamic entertainment experience defying the bounds of everyday reality.

To make sure that the wonder of the CAVE without a LIGHT experience would be accessible to as many people as possible, the designers opted for an inclusive design approach. Reaching out to a broad range of Sony employees—people with disabilities and people from different nationalities, for example—the team gained a deeper understanding of different perspectives and used the insights to enrich and broaden the exhibit's appeal. Not only did that input help enhance usability, but it also elevated the quality of the entire experience. Take the 2.5-D cave model, for instance. Created to improve accessibility for people with visual impairments, the model also proved to be a helpful tool in helping speakers of different languages understand the whole experience better. The same goes for the exhibit's simple, straightforward music. Not only did the easy rhythms help people with physical disabilities play along, but the uncomplicated accompaniment made it easier to engage with the experience for visitors across the board. Going the other way, certain design features turned out to have a positive impact on the accessibility side: the designers turned the platforms diagonally to prevent the soundwaves from visitors' voices and bongo hits from bouncing off the walls, a tweak that also improved wheelchair access to the platforms.
When you look around the designs filling the venue space, you can see how dedicated the team was to making the exhibit enjoyable for everyone—regardless of ability or disability.

Sony’s unique blend of diversity:
Another contributor to experience creation

Over the course of SXSW2019, CAVE without a LIGHT drew crowds—and the audience response was astounding. Some people started singing as the music played; some even broke out some dance moves to the beat. All in all, the visitors connected with the experience at a level that went far beyond the design team's expectations. What the designers really took pride in, however, were the reactions from members of a local association for the blind. "This is awesome!" they said, showing that the team’s conceptual framework and commitment to accessibility had the target effect: not even a significant visual impairment could get in the way of the full experience.

The CAVE without a LIGHT project was a collaboration in every sense of the term. From the prototype-demonstration stage onward, the Quality and Environment Dept., R&D Center, employees with disabilities, and employees from different locations across the globe lent valuable perspectives to the overall discussion. Every step of the way, the experience took on new layers of depth, richness, and polish. The Sony Creative Center is excited to make the most of the development experience, which will propel efforts to create more experiences for people of all kinds to enjoy.

Takuma (project leader), Deguchi (designer), Nishihara (project manager), Tsuda (design leader), and Kimura (designer)

When you step into CAVE without a LIGHT,
you embark on a sensory awakening:
a unique experience forms on the power of hearing and touch alone,
connecting with visitors on a far-reaching scope.
The Sony Creative Center, working with a diverse mix of Sony Group employees,
is looking forward to crafting more new experiences.