London Design Biennale (1-27 June) sees the debut of a new multi-sensory meditation tool. Entitled Metronome, the project marks the first collaboration between the curatorial agency Alter-Projects and French design studio Servaire & Co.

Inspired by the exploration of memory in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Metronome is a madeleine made for the 21st century. In the same way the taste and smell of the delicate cake sends Proust’s protagonist reeling into his forgotten past, so too does Metronome use audio-olfactory triggers to bring past experiences to the forefront of visitors’ minds. 

Metronome from the London Design Biennale designed by Alter-Projects and Servaire & Co

The centrepiece of the installation is a physical metronome, which is shaped like an infinity symbol and contains a swinging pendulum at its centre. A scent diffuser is attached to the end of the pendulum with a scent designed by Servaire & Co founder, Sebastien ServaireServaire, who has collaborated with Diptyque in the past, created what is, in his words, ‘an earthy scent with deeper notes of burnt wood, musk, grass and ginger, anchoring the visitor deep into nature and their primal emotions’.

‘The goal for Metronome was to create a scent that would initiate different reactions, memories and emotions – it’s not about smelling good,’ says Servaire. ‘In general, fragrance is static, but this scent will be associated with the rhythm of the metronome. It is an olfactive allegory, a mysterious UFO; we are curious to see how visitors will react to it.’

Metronome from the London Design Biennale designed by Alter-Projects and Servaire & Co

While the pendulum swings in the centre of the room, a sound experience – designed by the immersive soundscape creators at Moodsonic and delivered through a surround sound system developed by Steve Lastro and K-Array– is intended to trigger an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). This is a tingling sensation, usually intitiated by sound, that typically begins at the scalp and moves down the spine, creating a feeling of bliss or relaxation. 

‘The soundscape is designed to create an immersive experience that allows for a cognitive reset and a moment of reflection,’ say the team behind Metronome. ‘It is ASMR because of the use of specific sounds – ticking clock, water drops, tapping, crinkling – which are known to create tingles running through the back of people’s heads and their spines, as well as feelings of relaxation and peace.’ 

Metronome taps into the growing trend for sensorially immersive wellness experiences. As the forecasting study ‘Absent Beauty’ recently posited, the wellness culture of our post-pandemic society will be dominated by a desire for ‘physiological nostalgia’.

Metronome from the London Design Biennale designed by Alter-Projects and Servaire & Co

This novel form of self-care could see the emergence of domestic tools that engage users’ sense of touch, smell and hearing to trigger pleasurable memories and induce feelings of calm. In the words of ‘Absent Beauty’s author, Lucy Hardcastle, ‘physiological nostalgia uses neurological cognitive processes and memory dependence to challenge our brain functions – slowing down our cravings for newness by tuning us into solace’. 

To see Metronome, then, is not only to experience an intriguing object of design but to glimpse our future. In our current reality, where physical touch is limited and screen-time is increased, people will almost certainly be searching for new ways to achieve tranquillity while being at home but off the screen. §