Scott Garner gets a kick out of simple turns of phrase. Witty wordplay has provided inspiration for the New York-based designer’s work before—his Still Life interactive gallery piece was way less still, way more life—so BeetBox, his latest fun-with-homophones project, was a natural evolution. “I began with the ‘beet’ versus ‘beat’ idea and became interested in the notion of a drum machine that not only didn’t appear to be a machine but also seemed to be completely organic, yet functioned in the same way,” he tells Co.Design.
Fortuitously, the idea aligned with two NYU classes Garner was taking at the time: a tech-crafts assignment required students to build a circuit with an edible component, while a course in materials and building strategies provided the open-ended task to use any techniques that had already been covered. So he set out to make a functioning, well-crafted veggie sound machine activated with a gentle touch.
The whole thing is powered by a Raspberry Pi, a “surprisingly functional” credit-card-size computer. “It simply reads data from the sensor chip and triggers sound files as needed.” But what’s actually happening to these super roots to make them make noise? “It works on essentially the same principle as the touchscreen of your smartphone,” Garner explains. “Since the human body can hold an electrical charge, bringing your finger into contact with part of an electrical circuit—in this case, one of the beets—causes a measurable change in the flow of electrons. It sounds complicated”—yup!—“but I’m using a chip designed specifically for capacitive touch sensing, which makes things very simple.”
Constructing a hardwood case allowed Garner to combine his technical and design skills into a single device, and the finished unit uniquely encompasses his thoughtful take on “invisible” tech and our cultural approach to futurism. “Throughout the 20th century—from the very beginning of it, really—our vision of the future was almost always a world of buttons and screens and cold, austere environments. We’ve never quite hit that world, but I don’t think it’s because we’re lagging technologically,” he says. “I think it’s because humans have a fundamental desire for warmth, texture, and color,” he says. That, and an insatiable appetite for playing with our food.