Noisolation headphones let your ears blink

Composer Alex Braidwood whomped up these awesome "Noisolation Headphones," which are designed to "let your ears blink," and are quite eye-catching, in order to "start a conversation." And if you don't like the conversation they start, you can just shut your ears!

The Noisolation Headphones attempt to correct an oversight of our body: our ears can't blink. We can't block out molesting noise as easily as we can shut off light or disturbing images. In 2004 already, Dr Michael Bull was observing that iPods and other m3 players were used to control their environment, and in particular to shield their users from the sound of the city.

The Noisolation Headphones are a critical investigation that transforms the relationship between a person and the noise in their environment. While worn, exposure to the noise is structured through a sequence designated by a composer which controls the behavior of the sound-prevention valves. The composer also determines what values are adjustable by the listener through the single knob built into the device. The headphones mechanically create a personal listening experience by composing noise from the listener's environment, rendering it differently familiar.

(Image: Mikey Tnasuttimonkol & Jeremy Eichenbaum)


  1. our ears can’t blink

    Not entirely true– the stapedius and tensor tympani muscles in the middle ear mediate the acoustic reflex, which is very much analogous to the eye’s blink reflex.

  2. After reading that description of what the headphones do, I must admit I still have no idea what they do.

  3. Just as a side note- obfuscatory art-and-design descriptospeak hurts my soul. “Critical investigation”? Is this person walking around with instrumentation?  It just makes me sad when a person comes up with a clever concept, or a beautiful object, and and the default way to discuss that has nothing to do with how the artist conceived of it, or how a sensible person perceives it. I mean, all they had to say was “tunable earplugs,” and all was clear.

    1. You have to write things like this as your “artist’s statement” or no one (no one with money to give you, anyway) will take you seriously.

      At least, this is what I imagine must be the case, because artist’s statements are always B.S., regardless of how “good” or “bad” the art is.

    2. Heh, agreed! Except for the “all was clear” part. From the description I thought that they were noise-canceling headphones… which already exist. I love my Sennheiser’s and they keep me a bit sane at work. (They use signal-inversion and add a touch of white-noise. They work alright in the office and cut about 20-40 dB on an airplane.)

      After watching the video and… trying to read the article, it sounds more like it takes noise and just jumbles it up in a way that you can’t recognize. I still don’t know what they do…

  4. It would be utterly lovely if one could trigger steam to pop out of the pipes for incredibly urgent/exciting things.  Such as “I’m pregnant!” [steam noise] WHOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

  5. It may not be blinking, and I don’t know what it’s called, but I can at least cover up very low level noise easily by flexing something in my ears.  At least I think I’m flexing something.  When I do it I hear blood rushing at a volume high enough to drown out people whispering at a distance.  Anybody else?

    1. I can also intentionally affect my hearing, attenuating higher frequencies by about half.  Not sure exactly how, but it feels sort of like trying to move my earlobes.

      That said, I’ll stick to my Bose Quiet Comfort headset to block out molesting noise.

    2. I think I know what you are talking about.  Doing it creates a low roaring noise in your ears.  I can do it for a few seconds but it is a strain to do.  It isn’t a substitute for earplugs at things like shows.

  6. Humans also have a reflex in our ears that causes the outer hair cells in our inner ear to retract, decreasing sensitivity to sound of certain frequencies. This lets us ignore constant, low-level noise.

    Also, to flagler23: That’s your tensor tympani muscle. It normally is involuntarily controlled (helps block out chewing noise), but some people can exercise voluntary control of it. (I can do it too, but moreso in the right ear than the left.)

  7. What??? Why do explanation for “art” always seem to be more about obfuscation than… well… explaining? And after that “explanation” I expected something… dunno… technical… and what it is is just some lids on top of a pipe that is noisily opened and closed… and not really closed properly either. And why the pipes, and why pipes that probably conduct a lot of sound, and noisy click click clickety click, and, and, and…


  8. That sounds super peaceful. Sometimes I just want to make all the sounds and buzzing and yapping and banging shut up.

    Though, I don’t suppose it works for the voices in your head huh?

  9. I recently discovered I can do that too.  It’s roughly the same as when I yawn; kind of a rushing sound like white noise, and a feeling that I’m tightening a muscle but nothing visible either moves or tenses up.  What the heck? 

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