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An Interview with Charlie Morrow

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACharlie Morrow is a creative sound artist, composer, conceptualist and performer whose work connects leading edge ideas and technologies. He is the Founder and Creative Director of Charles Morrow Productions and MorrowSound® True 3D Sonic Experiences for destinations, institutions and projects, including Fresh Juice Global’s own theater!

Neal Lassila: What are some of the most unique customer experiences you’ve seen or witnessed in last 6 months?

Charlie Morrow: I’d like to talk about 3 customer experiences that were remarkable. The first concerned our own 3D sound installations in Marimekko stores. We had a project of putting in a combination of natural sounds and an automated DJ where sound floats in and out, giving a release from the music and a nice context for the environment. There had been some talk about this system not necessarily being worth the money. However, one of the environment players recently broke down and people were going crazy listening to the music alone. They demanded that the sonic environment return. We were very pleased to discover that this blend of environment and music is a potent force that people want. It serves the needs of both customers and staff. After all, the customers come and go but the staff is really essential (therefore, if they are happy, it’s infectious). Again, the environment sound is important because it adds a cocooning effect of a sound environment and a sense of warmth.

The second experience was the Collective Arts Brewing’s new marketing scheme. They market their own formulas for beer and had a new project out of Toronto. They held a competition for musical artists, offering the winners a chance to have their image on beer bottle labels along with a bar code that is recognized by mobile phone cameras.
If the phone recognizes the artist on the label, the phone plays the artist’s song. It was nice because they featured artists who weren’t known yet. One day, I was sitting in a bar in Vermont next to the guy who designed the label scheme and we were talking about the idea. Two weeks later, I was sitting in another bar next to a guy who said, “I’m on that beer. That’s me!” I thought that was a great customer experience because artists are promoting themselves, and everyone is happy. And it’s good beer!

The third great customer experience was at the NASCAR Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. They have a theater in which they sell tickets to stream live NASCAR races. They have about 50 audio sources in separate cars and pits, with different cameras. Visitors can customize their experience by following the race from the point of view of different drivers and people working in the pit. An event in which the customers have so much control over their version of the event is great!

NL: What is the main challenge that certain companies struggle with when it comes to succeeding in customer experiences through sound?

CM: Companies struggle with sound if they haven’t talked to enough people about their sonic experiences. We learn through our collaborators with substantial demos and mock-ups. It is important to take the time to see what others think about your work. Sound environments are often up for a long time so it’s really important to test them to see what’s working and what isn’t over time. Some things are good for a day or a week, but two weeks later, there may be some part that could be better. The extended dialogue is the missing part and that is what creates great work.

NL: What is your competitive advantage — and do you have any disadvantages?

CM: Our competitive advantage is that we offer a sound experience like the natural world. People will find that it’s like reality, but a little different. That way, we fool the mind with an audio illusion that is believable. However, the fact that this is created with numerous speakers and different wires is a disadvantage. Speakers are often something that need to be hidden in the décor, so the physical installation takes some imagination and challenge to sort out.

The good news is that sound in the past was over sound wires, and now we’re able to deliver sound over Cat 5 and IT wires. We’re now able to do complex sound installations with the possibility of putting 3D sound through an entire building. This would be absolutely impossible (and expensive) if we had to do it the old school way. But with the new school aspect of working with IT wiring, we have a whole other set of opportunities — especially for places already pre-wired for computers.

NL: When you say IT wires, is that similar to HDMI setup for changing sound? Or how would you explain the difference between speaker wires and computer wires?

CM: Computers wires are less expensive and something people understand, and speaker wires are fading away. For example, telephones are now handled over computer wires. A whole new generation of ownership for communication of all types is the IT staff of the world. IT is taking over from AV (audio visual). Anything that uses the IT system to deliver AV is part of the future, and anything that doesn’t is part of the past. It has to do with two totally different populations, two totally different design sensibilities.

NL: Does your system have a competitive advantage of having any health benefits for your customers?

CM: Yes! We distribute sound so you only hear louder sounds when needed. For example, when a motorcycle comes through, it can be really loud. Otherwise, the sound pressure is kept to a minimum. If you think about it, a loud speaker (like a microphone) is a diaphragm. It’s pumping air into the room with vibrations, so the more intense the sound pressure, the more the ear has to deal with. These pressures have to be mediated on a steady basis.

That’s one of the reasons 3D sound is so interesting, by emulating nature. Our minds are designed to hear sound from everywhere. We were born into it at a time when there were no loud speakers, only sounds of nature. People were able to protect themselves and do what was needed to spontaneously react to sounds to survive. The mind can immediately locate a sound in the natural world and our sound system emulates that. We want to keep people feeling like they’re in a place where they can locate the sound and know what’s going on. It is important for our sanity to know where sounds are coming from. A machine that never stops, keeps your mind from figuring out what’s going on and competes with your nervous system for reality perception.

NL: How do you measure effectiveness in the “In-Store” experience?

CM: We appoint a person in each retail, hospital or lobby location who is an “Informant.” It is usually the person in the most traffic, who is interested and who cares to comment. Their job is to collect all the information. This person lives in that sound all the time and talks to the customers (usually the senior concierge or senior guard). When we’re installing, we notice who has interest, ears, and cares about people. After all, we don’t just want to know if there’s a technical problem, we want to know if there’s a human problem. That way we can evolve because sound installation is an ongoing challenge, always open for upgrades. If there’s a sound element to reconsider every month, it requires this degree of diplomacy to really know what we’re doing.

NL: Do you have any concluding messages for your readers?

CM: I would ask them to write to us about the most extraordinary sound environments that they have ever experienced. What really turned their fancy, and in which location? What was a wonderful combination of sound in a retail situation? I’d like maximum feedback from readers so we can continue to improve through sound!

NL: Thank you Charlie! We are very grateful for all your wonderful insights on creating a unique customer experience through sound in museums, stores and hotels around the world. Also, thank you for continuing your legacy in our Fresh Juice Global Theater!

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