Dezeen and MINI World Tour: Google Creative Lab creative director Alexander Chen explains how he created a digital string you can pluck like a viola and discusses Google Glass and the future of user interface design in this movie we filmed at Design Indaba in Cape Town last month. 

Chen presented a number of his personal projects at Design Indaba, which involve novel ways of making music on a computer. "I grew up playing the viola and I've always written and recorded my own music," he explains. "I was learning that alongside computer programming and visual design [so] I always wanted to combine the things together."

"Digital technology will continue to disappear more and more"

For a project called Mta.me, Chen created a virtual stringed instrument based on the New York subway system (above). "I'd just moved to New York and I started to think 'what if the lines on the subway map could be a musical instrument?'" he says.

In Chen's map, the different subway routes become strings, which vibrate at different frequencies based on their length. Chen then animated the map so that the strings are plucked by other subway lines that intersect them. "I took it one step further," he says. "I looked up the subway schedule and using computer code had the subway performing itself."

"Digital technology will continue to disappear more and more"

Chen then goes on to talk about his work at Google Creative Lab, where he helped to produce the original concept video for Google Glass, as well as the final movie demonstrating the new user interface, which Google released in February.

He believes that wearable technology like Google Glass demonstrates how digital technology in future will be more integrated into our lives. "Technology continues to disappear more and more," he says. "I don't know if I want to make any strong predictions, but I hope that technology disappears more and more from my life and you forget that you're using it all the time instead of feeling like you're burdened [by it].

"I hope it becomes more like the water running in our house and the electricity running through our buildings: we use it when we need it and then we forget about it for the rest of the day and just enjoy being people."

"Digital technology will continue to disappear more and more"

This movie features a MINI Cooper S Countryman.

The music featured is by South African artist Floyd Lavine, who performed as part of the Design Indaba Music Circuit. You can listen to Lavine's music on Dezeen Music Project.

See all our Dezeen and Mini World Tour reports from Cape Town.

  • csparrott

    That bear is very confusing.

    • mike

      That glass is very confusing too ;)

      I wouldn’t agree to be filmed and sent to Google, would you?

  • stephan

    One of the smart, sympathetic and friendly designers that turns our world into something that thoughtful humans never wish to happen. I am absolutely against Google Glass and similar tec in our world and recommend: http://stopthecyborgs.org

  • NND

    Nice vision of the technological future.

  • Dan Leno

    When nerds take control.

    Forgetting about something that’s continuously present and monitoring your behaviour? Wonder what Foucault would have had to say about this one. The claim of becoming more human is a shallow one. A better way for remaining human would be to avoid applying technology to all aspects of our daily life, for example reading maps or seeing.

  • Jim

    This makes no sense. Our current wasteful ways are informed by this exact ignorance to how water is acquired and disposed, etc. This just sounds like we should become less critical and ‘veiled’ by another system of control.

    It is probably so destructive to live like this. We aren’t burdened by technology – the problem is, we’re accepting it without any knowledge of its impact on our lives.