My name is Simon Ghahary. 1991 was the year that I found a source of free speaker components: the Bowers & Wilkins Loudspeakers Ltd. (B&W) research and development skip in Steyning, West Sussex.
I followed the music of the 80’s emerging UK dance scene, designed flyers, carried record boxes, scouted and cleared warehouse venues for underground house parties and had been involved in promoting my own events. I was always intrigued by the counter culture of the 60s & 70s led by the beat generation and the hippies and punks that followed. There was a similar spirited movement happening. Having loved sound and played music, I was always fascinated at the power of sound to transform space and bring listeners together. I was inspired by the way music created the culture around it. It was at this time I first began experimenting with the construction of Sound Systems. The concept of the sound system fused all my interests, art, music, design and the esoteric into one.
I began to imagine how sound waves behaved and I developed an intuitive foundation point. I began to imagine sound like a liquid and the ripple as the movement of sound. This made the cabinet shape important to the sound waves. Round cabinets made sense because of the lack of flat surfaces and sharp edges. I didn’t fully understand at this stage the importance of this or the true dynamics, however at this point it didn’t matter as I had the trigger to start my own concepts of curved speaker enclosures.
Some local friends first introduced me the rubbish skip. B&W was well known for their very expensive top end hi-fi loudspeakers. My friends collected parts too, only to wait in order to assemble completed versions of existing B&W loudspeakers from components that they had collected from the skip patiently over many months, sometimes years. Components and cabinets were being thrown out daily. Tested and then discarded. Some components with minor faults, discontinued or cabinets with scratched paintwork. I didn’t have the patience to wait. I started to build and put mutant versions together to make my own speakers. I did it by ear most of the time. It was pretty primitive but it worked. I made speakers to play the music I liked. This was mainly electronic music and dub. A favorite was the Orb, bass heavy, atmospheric and dynamic. Through this unconventional learning experience, I started to build my own knowledge. It was here that I discovered my limits and drew the speakers I really wanted to make and that is where things became more organic and round.
Through a twist of fate I met B&W maverick acoustic engineer Laurence “Dic” Dickie. Dic was working, unbeknownst to me, on a pioneering loudspeaker project called the Nautilus under B&W’s then owner and audio visionary Robert Trunz. Robert incidentally through the Nautilus project was following the legacy of the late John Bowers, founder and the “B” in the original B&W partnership.
I showed Dic my loudspeaker concepts and designs for the first curved Pod enclosures and discussed with him the materials that I was proposing to make them from - GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic). The material was a point of interest for Dic who was considering his options of the Nautilus’s construction. This meeting was the beginning of Dic becoming not only my first mentor, but also a very dear friend. He arranged a meeting with Robert Trunz at B&W Research and Development Centre.
We spent a whole afternoon together in the listening room of Steyning B&W. It was a magical day. We got on well. We shared music and discussed my audio ambitions with the Pods. I listened to the history of the legacy Robert had created and his ambitions with the Nautilus and B&W. Robert then offered a proposition.
If I could produce prototypes of my Pod design then Dickie would help with the acoustic engineering and component design. Most importantly Robert Trunz would throw the weight of B&W behind the project investing in production and distribution.
In his own words, as Dic recollects... "It was one fine sunny day at SRE (B&W Steyning Research Establishment) when I heard the front doorbell go, not something which happened all that often. To my surprise and slight consternation it was an officer of the law but there was no going back, the door was glazed and he’d seen me already so I could only slide the door open and hope for the best!“I’ve had reason to search the premises of Steyning Video Hire and have reason to believe I might have found a quantity of property stolen from these premises” he announced. “The occupant” he continued ”claims the material all came from the skip and was free for the taking. I don’t believe him for one moment so I’d be very grateful if someone could accompany me to the shop and verify his story”.
Well now I was getting interested because we did use to throw away all sorts of good stuff, which pained me, and it was interesting to think someone was doing useful things with it, so I set off behind him and walked the 200m to the shop.
We were met by a young dark-haired chap who did seem a bit nervous but not unduly so. The policeman guided me to a back room where he proudly waved his hand at a pile of very familiar looking objects. “There” he said proudly “you can’t tell me that’s all rubbish, there’s good stuff there”. But as I looked more closely I recognised bits and bobs that I fashioned with my own hands and regretfully had had to consign to waste under pressure from the boss.
“Oh Wow! You picked that up” I said pointing to a cabinet experiment I remembered from way way back. “Oh and this! Well that was an experiment in driver design but there was only one so you have a job making a stereo pair”. Very soon the two of us were deep in conversation while the officer looked on in mounting disbelief until eventually he had to interject “So can I take it that all of this is, in fact, junk and none of it stolen?” “Absolutely!” I replied. “And it’s great to see someone has put it all to good use!” and at this the policeman turned and strode out of the shop, disgruntled at the loss of a possible arrest and the attendant brownie points he would undoubtedly have gained.
So the general chat about turning junk into gold carried on for a while until we reached natural break in the conversation. Suddenly Simon turned to me and said “actually there’s something I’d like your opinion on” and disappeared for a few seconds before re-appearing with a portfolio. “These are some ideas I’ve been working on” he said, unfolding the cover to reveal some immediately intriguing graphics drawn in a heavy 6B pencil. The shapes before me had essences of Buddha, were totally curvaceous and just an amazing design for a speaker - because that was exactly what they were.
We talked around the subject for a while but, with very little modification I agreed that these shapes would totally work. “So” asked Simon, “If I make a couple of cabs to this design will you fit the drivers and sort out the crossover?”. I happily agreed but in my mind I doubted anything would happen and had almost forgotten our meeting when three months later who should turn up at the R&D lab but Simon, bearing the completed fibre glass shells. A bit speechless I accepted the cabinets and agreed that I had to keep my half of the deal and would have to sort out the drivers and crossover."
Leading up to this through another twist of fate, I met Dave Roberts in a video shop. Dave was a craftsman in the GRP production process. I was considering the materials and showed Dave my designs and asked about fiberglass production. Dave generously helped me through the production process. Dave became my business partner from that moment and worked with me on the initial Pod pattern design, under my creative direction and together with his expertise; we began the mold making and our first cabinet production.
I invested everything I had at the time to make the first Pod shells. I sold my comic collection, books, everything I didn’t need to wear. It unfortunately didn’t fetch a lot but it was enough to get the materials to make the first pairs of the Pod. We both worked extremely hard to produce them. It wasn’t until some incredibly kind friends donated funds to make it possible to open a small workshop that things started to really move. We took residence in a back street on a Worthing industrial estate surrounded by automobile garages.
One of my friends Nick Johns, who helped us sand patterns and cabinets, made an introduction to his dad Tim Johns. Tim had built his business success on manufacturing in the Far East. Tim helped by investing in us and gave expert advice and coaching on what we would need to set up a company. It was a mighty wake up call on what we needed to do in order to make the running of the business side successful. We were at the time very naive and lacking business savvy.
In between production I developed what was to become the initial brand identity. This was to be the style and blueprint of the new brand, with a registered company identity: Blue Room. The name had many different connotations; from being a mythical US storage bunker in the fabled Area 51 that allegedly contained the remains of alien landings to ambient music innovators the Orb’s stand out 39-minute track and hugely influential album from 1992. Both influences were pivotal to the naming. The latter was a huge musical inspiration. LX Paterson maverick ‘sound smith’ from the Orb became a supporter of my designs. I later remember being so proud to add a quote to the HousePod brochure from LX. We became good friends and we later installed a Pod Sound System in the Orb’s studio.
I had a huge appetite for Sci-Fi and some of my first work came in the guise of comics that made it into small independent publications. This came from an imagination raised early on the West Coast psychedelic images of 60s/70s fed on a devotion to British Sci-Fi comic 2000 AD. I was first inspired to create the Blue Room logo from a drawing I made of a character with a double bass clef face.
The double bass clefs were a visual metaphor for increased sound. I also wanted to create a personal seal or signature hence the distortion into a ‘S’ shape.
My early collages (as seen below) using hand made cut & paste photography depicted the Pod as otherworldly, an ancient traveling alien artifact that was dormant until discovered. This visually linked to the myths of the Blue Room and would later influence the visual development of Blue Room Released.
The trademark of Blue Room Loudspeakers, were created by hand. The films below were part of our first round of T-Shirts. Our link to the world of sound systems can be clearly seen with the emphasis given to the word 'loud' before speakers.
A move back to Brighton and another twist of fate presented the opportunity to meet John Holland, owner of the Great Escape nightclub directly opposite famous Brighton landmark the Palace Pier. I brought the first HousePods to the meeting and twisted his arm into installing a Pod sound system during their upcoming club refit. I convinced him the Pod system was the way forward to ignite his dream of establishing the venue on the UK club scene. It was going to be a huge hi-fi system of audacious audio quality. I was inspired by a clutch of world famous legendary New York venues that hosted incredible sound systems during the first underground disco years such as David Mancuso’s the loft, Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage and also Peter Gatien’s “the King of New York clubs” Limelight, Tunnel and Palladium. All were fitted by with exceptional sound systems and I was entranced by folklore surrounding the way the systems were positioned and split into frequencies. The stories behind them were fascinating and inspiring. This was our chance to make our mark and channel the passion of perfection behind the intent of Blue Room brand.
It was immediately clear that the club size demanded a more powerful version of the Pod. With speaker components provided by B&W (unbeknown to me at the time breaking B&W production protocol authorized under the wistful eye of Robert Trunz), my design solution was to evolve the original form of the first Pod to accept a second loudspeaker driver beneath the first and sculpt the bottom from the spine. This suited the new application of the Pods, as they would be high up on brackets and more exposed. It was clear new loudspeaker drivers based on the same dimensions of the ones we used were going to be needed in order to pull off the heavy demands of a club environment and deliver more power. Dickie wanted to split the frequencies with the Pods handling mid and top range. It called for an almighty bottom end to handle the sub frequencies and this would mean building a wall of bass. We excavated into the cliff face to build the huge bass cabinet. It was tough work. We positioned 24 x 801 bass drivers in that cabinet. Anyone that knows about hi-fi knows about B&W’s legendary 801 series. They were used in Abbey Road studios. 801’s were being used to master orchestra scores. There are two bass drivers in a pair. Here we had 24. Maybe you can imagine the bass sound, it was sensational.
We assembled small team of skilled engineers and fabricators. Dickie brought in a talented engineer named Martin De Saulles. Martin previously worked on flight simulators and had bedrock of knowledge from working with acoustics for professional environments. We labored around the clock to produce the Pods for the club’s aggressive nine-day launch deadline. This team was to be the nucleus for our future Pod production at B&W.
The re-opening of Brighton’s Escape Club in 1993 was a complete success and the sound system was baptized by one of the founder’s of house music, producer and DJ legend, Todd Terry. The Pod system received critical acclaim, with the UK based fashion and contemporary culture magazine The Face labeling it a “fierce sound”.
By the time I had arranged a second meeting with Robert Trunz, we were able to not only show him the first prototype Pods (aptly named House-pods because of their domestic use and in homage to the emergence of house music) we also had an identity, Blue Room Loudspeakers and a brand that represented our ambition. We also had a team. The cherry on top was presenting a complete club sound system based around the second Pod design, now called the TechnoPod, that had been acoustically engineered with new fellow collaborator and Blue Room member, Martin de Saulles.
Contracts were drawn up and we were integrated as a subsidiary under B&W Loudspeakers, 50/50. However we were given the investment on the basis the company would become fluid and profitable 12 months after the signing date. We naively signed the contracts without a lawyer. Critical mistake number one.
Although we were inexperienced, we did feel trusting and incredibly lucky to have Robert and the power of B&W Loudspeakers behind us. The full fledged ferocity of Trunz backing the Blue Room steam rolled a path through all corporate protocol, which unfortunately had the effect of alienating some of the internal staff. At the time this was testing, we were firm in the belief we would be successful and were going at it like bulls in a china shop. In hindsight, to sit on the board of B&W representing Blue Room and not understanding how to get the best from corporate management, I can see why some people were frightened off by the change and chaos we represented. I for one will be eternally grateful for the fact they got behind us at all.
Our decision to create an in-house GRP workshop for cabinet production took far too long to set up and by the time we were up and running it was too late to recover the funds for our first major exports of the HousePod. This was critical error number two and another major lesson in business.
The business partnership was dissolved and we became employees of B&W with reduced shares and royalties on the products. I was very much the emotional owner and so the Blue Room was still acknowledged and understood to be my baby. I loved what I did and in my eyes there was still a lot to be done. I carried on with the Creative Direction and Loudspeaker design. Dave Roberts stayed to run the GRP cabinet production, including product pattern and mold development.
We began to employ even more talented staff and fabricators. Our team began to grow.
Our launch party was staged at the Event in Brighton. We arrived to the live sounds of techno band Fluke and the thumping London underground club sound at a club venue synonymous with the early Acid House raves. It was an intentional merge with our roots, Pods were part of the culture of electronic music and this relationship was not only important to me, but to the Blue Room.
The imaging of the Blue Room was far removed from the B&W of that day. Images were staged to reinforce the ‘art of sound’ and part of the marketing concept around the HousePod. The Pod was intentionally shot from behind as to create mystery and ambiguity. A strong departure from any of the technically led marketing B&W produced at the time. This was a direct result of me fighting to involve the London based Design & PR company Think. Together we made the HousePods much more of a lifestyle item. This photograph evolved after many experiments over a two-day shoot in East London with the Art direction of Andrew Sutton, head creative from Think and photographer Robert Clifford.
Here we coined our trademark slogan “the future shape of sound”.
Think gifted us a lucky break with UK band ‘The Grid” (Richard Norris and Dave Ball) with multiple white Pods filmed for a music video “Swamp Thing”. I’ll never forget receiving a call from Think requesting we put together as many white Pods as we could fit in a truck. David Roberts and I split a shipment destined for export and raced with everything we had to London. The Pods were scattered throughout the studio and filming began. It was shot in a day and we traveled back to Brighton late in the evening. “Swamp Thing” by The Grid was a monster of a tune released back in June 1994. It reached number three in the UK charts and was in the top ten for eight weeks. The Pods also appeared on both of the Grids album covers. The video played everywhere and the exposure was priceless.
The HousePod won the European Image and Sound Association (EISA) award 1995-96 for audio design, which I accepted on behalf of Blue Room in Berlin. This was a magnificent start with B&W Loudspeakers and secured cult status for changing the face of the domestic hi-fi market. The Pods had really become an antidote to the convention of square, box type enclosures. I’m proud to say they spearheaded a revolution in audio design, the effects of which can still be seen today.
As part of a promotional launch in Holland the enclosures were also treated as a canvas and hand painted by the wonderfully eccentric, talented, Amsterdam based underground artist Daniel Dadara. This later followed with a collaborative project to produce one of Dadara's designs for a gallery opening. The Dadara baby has since become a serious collectors item.
Our original roster of colors were, black, white and blue. We started to experiment. Through a team up with Erisbian Garbs of Brighton, a duo of eccentric and highly talented designers of fashionable leather products, a project was born to create a unique pair of HousePod's. These were intended as a gift for Madonna. Unfortunately this pair of speakers went missing during a film shoot in Denmark and never made it to the Queen of Pop.
With the popularity of the HousePod it was obvious to us that a smaller scale version would widen its appeal to a larger audience. My first concept originally called Pod Junior was conceived in 1994 (the illustration below and before), and carried the refined characteristics of the HousePod and incorporated acoustic improvements learned in collaboration with Laurence Dickie, Martin de Saulles, Robert Trunz and B&W loudspeakers Ltd. (B&W). The most visible of the acoustic improvements can be seen on the shape surrounding the high-end unit and the overall reduction in volume in scale to the main driver, as the original HousePod cabinet volume was over-sized.
The MiniPod was born.
Martin de Saulles made improvements, which included the refined tweeter aperture horn and Dave Roberts crafted the pattern.
The first MiniPod cabinets produced in 1995 were molded in-house from our workshop facility at B&W Loudspeakers by our team from GRP material. The expense and time involved would not allow the potential of mass production and so the original MiniPod began life as a relatively exclusive product. 4000 units were made.
Blue Room Loudspeakers separated from B&W in 1996 and was to become its own entity in 1997 as part of a deal by Robert Trunz to separate away from B&W and take Blue Room with him.
One of the negative consequences of the separation from B&W was the number of loudspeaker projects that ground to halt, subject to the conditions of Robert Trunz's private equity sale to B&W and Blue Rooms two year freeze to produce products.
We did revisit production of the HousePods & TechnoPods again for a short time, however the new production facilities in Denmark and the use of plastic, closed the door to developments in GRP, leaving some projects in limbo.
This included a Bass extension sub woofer for the TechnoPod ...
... and this early idea for a Zeppelin loudspeaker.
The two year freeze for Blue Room Loudspeakers was not a set back, but an opportunity to build the Blue Room brand, moving it towards its intended audience. We did this via the genesis of new record label Blue Room Released. Conceived in 1994, I began to reach out to artists met during my time pursuing underground dance culture. Many of them had great music that was not released. My simple synopsis of the label was to build a futuristic sound track for the Blue Room. Robert Trunz backed the venture and it was set up independently. This platform would later grant Robert access to our music producers and artists for collaborations with his own international roster of musicians from the MELT2000 label.
I personally felt extremely passionate for the music, the artists and our audience. It was an intense evolving sound and a great time to link people together through music and dance; which in turn increased our audience and tribal following. Electronic music is human sound adapting to indulge technology and for some it feels like the signature sound of energy. New and abstract sounds over hypnotic rhythms can conjure vast sound-scapes for escape, pleasure and transcendence. A piece of music not just writes a 1000 words like a picture. It can also paint a 1000 pictures.
Blue Room now had it’s own distinct sound track and a kick drum for a heartbeat.
This label connected Blue Room Loudspeakers to the forefront of musical innovation through an assembled global roster of talented electronic music artists. It also reinforced an important allegiance to music, placing the hardware within the software.
DJ Mike Maquire compiled out first release. Mike's choices for the tracks had all influenced me at the time. In my opinion they rekindled the energy and urgency of Acid House, mixing hypnotic tribal percussion, with sweeping electronica, creating the fullness and dynamics of a movie soundtrack. At the underground events they were played through Digital Audio Tapes (DAT) tapes. This helped maintain a critical depth of sound that delivered quality above and beyond conventional media at the time.
This deepness and richness in sound quality complemented our legendary cardboard tube sound system, designed and championed by Laurence Dickie to deliver full hi-fi bandwidth sound at our early live events. The fact most of the music was unreleased and only being heard at these events created a cult following that added mysticism around the sacredness of the music.
From a visual and story telling point of view, the record label imprint was successful at expanding on the mystique around the Blue Room identity. It allowed mediums such as the website, merchandise and the many record covers, to visually manifest and explore a window into the psyche of the Blue Room. Although related, it’s fluid and free form visual narrative oscillated from how we were presenting the MiniPod.
To maintain the Blue Room image and reputation, I was dedicated to the standard of music. I wanted it to inspire people and do justice to the artists it represented. I was hugely respectful of them and their passion so was careful to take great care compiling track lists for compilations. Being A&R for the label also gave me the opportunity to build some wonderful friendships with our artists who came from all over the world. Countries included England, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Finland, Sweden and America. It was an amazing time to bring these people together and to encourage collaboration. Artists that were virtually unknown in their own country were starting to meet their counterparts from other nations. It was an amazing thing to witness. Their cultures and language may have been different but they all shared the same passion for their music. Music unified them. Bonded them together and in turn solidified the standing of the whole label. Blue Room Released didn’t feel like a business or company, it felt like family.
Our label manager Mick Paterson arrived with an already illustrious career in the music industry and had previously run Nova Mute a subsidiary of the hugely successful independent music label Mute Records. Mick steered the release schedule bringing his experience and methodical temperament to help mitigate my enthusiasm with pragmatism. Dave Tyler, running exports and Celeste O’Neil as the head of PR aided by Louise Leekham Donno, later joined us. In 1996 we opened our head quarters in Rivington Street, London near Shorditch, which at a time was just emerging as a culturally creative hot spot. The dedicated team at Robert’s International Music label in Worthing ran our business admin. First called B&W music and then after the split with B&W, called MELT 2000. MELT standing for Music, Energy and Loud Truth. MELT 2000 was Robert’s personal voyage into tribal Jazz and the roots of music.
Organized events and music allowed people to access the Blue Room environment. The events themselves became little worlds that were assembled, richly decorated and sonically transformed by the passion and dedication of teams of people that loved music. These people included James Baggort and the crew of Ahimsa Group Productions and Laurence Dickie's legendary Blue Room Tube sound system. As this system grew it became the legendary UK Innerfield Soundsystem. Daveid Phillips, a force within music organising the likes of amongst many others, Nirvana's festival debut in the UK, also helped with our promotion in England lining up two epic nights at the Forum (see Flyer below) and the chance to have a tent (called Amazon) within the legendary Tribal Gathering 1997 where a solid Blue Room line up including the Juno Reactor, Saafi Brothers, Koxbox and X-Dream shared the line up with the cream of Electronic music including Kraftwerk, Orbital, Andrew Weatherall, and Daft Punk. London and Merchandising of the label was also hugely popular with T-shirts, stickers, posters, all of which acted as cultural ambassadors for Blue Room globally on the underground electronic music scene.
The Blue Room logo become a symbol associated with exceptional audio quality. We worked with the best people in the music business to maintain a great reputation for consistency and sound. Our releases were mastered by Kevin Metcalfe an industry legend, who worked with the likes of The Prodigy, Paul McCartney, The Clash, The Police, Yello, Duran Duran, Queen, Depeche Mode, Happy Mondays, U2, Simple Minds, David Bowie, KLF, Orbital, Spiritualized, The White Stripes and many more. Our releases played louder and clearer on any sound system.
The Blue Room even landed as a permanent fixture in Helsinki, Finland under a collective of custodians entitled Freaks with Good Manners, run by DJ Borzin and Nique who opened a Blue Room bar delivering revolving eclectic music for like minded experience seekers.
These were incredibly creative times; with many people becoming part of the Blue Room to grow it’s capability to deliver unique experiences through music, photography, artwork and events. The diversity of musician identities enabled some great collaborations and commissions with visual artists such as psychedelic painter Brahma, who created the image used for the cover of Saafi Brothers and The Infinity Project’s Mystical Experiences. Renowned sleeve designers such as Andrew Sutton worked on the original house bag design, whilst Richie Burridge (long time visual collaborator with Plaid) worked on the original Trip Through Sound, Etnica, Sun Kings, Saafi Brothers, Koxbox and Alien. In fact the first collaborations were late nights sat with Richie working together on albums like Total Eclipse’s Violent Relaxation with Richie patiently working hard incorporating my ideas and images with his own. In fact I’m grateful for the patience of all the people I worked with in the early days. I was quite particular and protective of the Blue Room and always spent time adjusting peoples senses to its wavelength. This was where I cultivated my digital art designing record covers, adverts, posters merchandise and other visual imagery.
Signs of life was my first true experiment in broadening the style of the sound of the Blue Room. It was a chance to take it back to the roots that first inspired me, the sounds of LX Paterson and the Orb. From a foundation of techno music, we experimented with dub, electro, ambience and break beat. By the time of the final release in 2001 we widened the music styles further with Freekstyle an album that introduced new artist Acidrockers and his trademark drum & bass sound. We had released over 100 records when Blue Room Released had started reach its zenith, uniting this wide range of styles and to touch upon some local UK chart success with Juno Reactor only to disappear silently without trace.
The combined successes of our pod range of designs, the Blue Room brand and stable of artists that made up the Blue Room Released record label enabled us to open an office in the USA. We did this in conjunction with some fine like-minded fellows in San Francisco led by Nicholas Crayson. This allowed a focus on what on a gateway to the US market. From here we supported distribution of our designs, ran promotional events, launch parties and concerts all in celebration of the Blue Room.
Nick Crayson is a fellow visionary, innovator and all round fearless prankster. We’ve had the pleasure of knowing each other and being good friends for a very long time, so choosing Nick to run Blue Room in America was an easy decision to make. Nick seized the position with aplomb, pouring his heart and soul into Blue Room Americas. He built a team of great individuals to help him run the label and establish a conduit of music and events fresh from Europe to pour across the USA through the West Coast. To be based in America, let alone San Francisco, was a dream. As a youngster my first drawings were copied interpretations from the amazing psychedelic album covers of the Sixties and Seventies. These inspirations also included the psychedelic posters of Grateful Dead, Santana and Jimi Hendrix. As I grew older and more aware, my knowledge and reverence for the spirit of the artistic movement of California grew as well. It was historically one of the big melting pots inspiring positive change and harmony through music culture. It also resonated with Robert Trunz as well, as he had grown up during the Sixties and was part of his own alternative movement in Switzerland. We were bringing something new to the States and what’s more, our music was being played loud and proud on the legendary Haight-Ashbury.
The amazing new personalities of Nick’s team, added their own vibe and colour to the Blue Room family. An eclectic bunch of music lovers such as Darin Earl, Jonathan Obera, musicians, producers, DJs such as Adam OHana and Anne with visualizer Cyril Noir made the Blue Room their day job, setting up the distribution and promotion network. For fun we ran ads displaying Blue Room's first collaborations with NASA installing Earth's first Orbital Sound system and a style of playing with NASA imagery was established. I made regular visits to the SF team and guided their development establishing design continuity with Cyril Noir to work within parameters that allowed him to give Blue Room Americas its own visual spin. Some of Cyril's work can be seen on the slideshow above this paragraph. In fact the whole team managed to take a piece of the Blue Room themselves, emotionally owning it and giving their all. Friendships solidified across the Atlantic. Everyone on the label wanted to visit the US, to play and be a part of the ‘happening’. These were peak years for us, as our artists traveled the world. At one point we organized events sequentially from all around Europe, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo, New York and then back to San Francisco. Blue Room began to resonate across the globe louder and louder.
As Blue Room Loudspeakers separated from B&W in 1996 to become its own entity, the search for new production partners led to create the MiniPod from high stiffness, recyclable ABS plastic in Denmark.
A number of improvements to the general functionality were built into the new MiniPod model. These included a much needed makeover to the delicate nature of the working drivers from B&W. Child proof tweeters and driver domes were built into the new specification as a solution to counter any accidental damage from the exposed drivers.
Martin de Saulles worked on the revised acoustic design and managed the integration of production with Scandyna in Billund, Denmark. He also reworked the Sputnik spikes fixing mechanism with his brother.
The new manufacturing conditions allowed us to experiment with a spectrum of colours and finishes, including transparent plastics. We celebrated this with the special Lucente edition.
To keep up with demand and as the production volume increased, robot arms replaced human ones to meticulously paint the MiniPod cabinets in a dedicated spraying facility in Denmark.
The electronic arm was programmed to retrace the hand movements of a master painter with thirty years experience. It was able to work around the clock with no breaks, which was both terrifying in a dystopian 'Terminator' type way and technologically fascinating at the same time.
1998. My position as Creative Director and Product Designer gave me a pivotal role in overseeing and contributing to the MiniPod brand experience. Robert assembled a team that involved an advertising agency in Switzerland ran by Marc Fischer and his team of imaginative designers. This included amongst others Dan Egli joined by Marketing consultant Christoph Spengler. Robert met them in Switzerland through Christoph and was inspired by their approach. They injected fresh new ideas into the brand material. Together over a series of meetings and workshops in London and Zurich we created a strategy to re launch the MiniPod. Our focus was on the detail of the customer experience. We looked at the customer journey; from ordering the product to receiving and opening the packaging. These were all important touch points that we hoped to leverage into a memorable experience for the consumer.
We all collaborated again for the MiniPod website, our informative interactive brand interface. We pooled our ideas together to make it as unique as possible. The overall navigation and website look was based on the concept of crop circles shapes that I had started to experiment with on the Blue Room Released album “Signs of Life”.
It was a hugely popular site embracing the animation capabilities of the new debuting Flash software and full of quirky animations From the website the MiniPod was capable of being ordered and delivered globally, within 48 hours, which was quite innovative for 1998. Our in house team including Graham Holden and Owen Priestiey helped on the updated version.
Receiving a product is one of the most important moments in its life cycle. It’s an opportunity for the owner to cement the bond formed by attraction. The product has to continue to seduce and exceed your initial expectations. If it was love at first sight, the time you feel and touch the product, if done correctly, will stay with you all its life.
We looked at unique ways of packaging the product. Packaging is an important part of the customer experience and to extend this we wanted it to be reusable.
It wasn’t just about delivering a clever sustainability solution; most importantly we wanted it to be something you’d really want to use.
The Swiss creative team found a source for inflatable bags from a company that supplied the medical industry. It was a great idea as they were economically viable as well as reusable. It was also a memorable introduction for the customer to receive the Pod. It would be like receiving something organic and fitted with the Pods nature.
To extend the reusable concept we collaborated on the design of a tough nylon bag to fit and protect the inflatable packaging. The Swiss team were all snow boarders and were part of that design culture so they took the lead on the bag manufacture. We set parameters for the bags use after delivery. We wanted it to be reusable and practical. This was built into the design of the bag and included various ways of adjusting it for use as a rucksack The bag was not only a practical accessory, offering the opportunity to carry the MiniPod and sputnik spikes in style, but also a very useful solution for sending the MiniPods back for service or repair. To help facilitate this we created various concealed straps for transforming the bag from handling two Pods to one Pod and included transparent wallets for use for address and shipping details. The bag was then branded clearly with the MiniPod web site.
To receive the MiniPod in this way opened great opportunities for gifting the product through the website. The MiniPods were offered for delivery to most global locations within 48 hours, order to door. Again, a bold statement for 1998 e-commerce.
With the prospect of competing in a cinema set-up it was apparent that the MiniPod needed some extra bass extension and so a new design brief was set. Modern music listening and the emergence of home theater have created a need for amplification of that bottom octave without wanting to return to big speakers. Traditional sub-woofers have always been large chunky boxes, and because most of them have built in amplification, they usually sport unsightly heat extrusion fins.
I was inspired by the ancient form of a percussionist’s drum for the shape of the MiniPod bass-station. For many reasons it made so much sense. The sub bass driver sits horizontally on top and vibrates like a drum skin, conducting sound through the cylindrical body of the sub woofer cabinet to the bass-port horn sat underneath.
The Bass Station cabinet is created from a two-piece plastic injection molding, internally braced for acoustic rigidity. Its cylindrical form is gently contoured to minimize air turbulence and the near spherical enclosure keeps internal resonance at a high frequency to avoid any colouration of the sound. All the really low frequencies emitting from the Bass-station come through the downwards firing bass reflex port, which is gently flared to keep the airflow smooth. Placing the inner end of the port at the centre of the bass-station cylinder helps to keep unwanted overtones out of the frequency band. In keeping with the MiniPod the shape is stationed on four aluminum sputnik legs, which also lift the bass port from the floor. A gentle curve sweeps around the cabinet finishing in a teardrop mount for placement of the product badge. The Bass Station is powered and includes 75 watts of amplification neatly concealed on the backside of the cabinet. When the speaker is active, a blue LED light emits behind the front translucent product badge to indicate it is turned on.
This piece of complementary acoustic technology can come out from behind the sofa and unobtrusively positioned to join the MiniPods on show.
Due to the popularity of the MiniPod and Bass Station I was commissioned to design a centre channel for the MiniPod cinema range. This project allowed me to work closely again with mentor and acoustic engineer Laurence Dickie.
Dic wanted me to imagine two MiniPods joined together at the tweeter by a ninety-degree angle. This acoustic rule immediately gave an estimated height of the cabinet and the volume of the two MiniPods suggested a dimension for overall size. I used these guides to sculpture the form.
My first drafts established continuity between the CinePod shape and MiniPod. Once I had created the overall shape, I went about drawing scaled orthographic representations, with 3-D sketches and physical models of the bass port detail in filler.
The overall form had a lot to contain within it, and I tried to be as conservative with the space as possible.
The CinePod design process was also a great opportunity to explore and incorporate some modifications that I wanted to use updating the MiniPod design. I had wanted to conceal any wiring to the CinePod. The terminal tray cover solved this and greatly improved the overall flow of the CinePod shape, also neatly covered the entrance hole of the wall bracket.
All drawings and models were used to create a 3-D CAD model, which was then used for making the tool in three pieces front, back and bottom. Again, as with the Bass Station, the finished enclosure was internally braced and made from ABS plastic.
The MicroPod SE system was originally conceived as a complete home cinema audio solution, offering the radical nature of the MiniPod on a smaller scale. It was also never destined for release but sometimes you can’t control everything.
Taking this a step further, I started to experiment with the spine of the Pod and thinning the volume around the tweeter housing. Originally I wanted to incorporate a way of including the bracket as part of the shape (as illustrated below) allowing the seed like form to be self-contained.
This idea was dropped when it was decided accessories would be available separately for this range. The styling however was kept and the round element at the bottom of the cabinet was incorporated to the speaker fixing plate of the bracket assembly, which in essence was a scaled down version of the MiniPod Omnimount wall bracket.
When originally released, the drivers had a carbon weave cone. A revision of electrical components replaced this with the distinctive yellow Kevlar bass/midrange unit and a soft dome tweeter. Two different styles of subwoofer became available for the MicroPods including a smaller version of the MiniPod Bass Station (pictured right in the background) finished in a two-tone style exaggerating the curve that curls around the cabinet.ed this with the distinctive yellow Kevlar bass/midrange unit and a soft dome tweeter. Two different styles of subwoofer became available for the MicroPods including a smaller version of the MiniPodBass Station (pictured right in the background) finished in a two-tone style exaggerating the curve that curls around the cabinet.
To coincide with the completion of the MiniPod range (consisting of MiniPod, CinePod and Bass Station) we planned to release a 28-page booklet in celebration of the story of the Pod and the culture that had been created around. It was a great opportunity to tell the story of the Blue Room from its beginnings, taking in its heritage and showcase the subsidiary companies such as Blue Room Released and MELT 2000.
Visually it was a chance to take a look at the evolution of the Pod shape and to use the shoot to create a consistent portfolio of imagery of the entire range. This was planned to be part of a new marketing strategy, which included a new website and marketing collateral. We planned to keep it local using the studios of Michael Gardiner from Walter Gardiner. Michael had shot the B&W Nautilus previously.
We spent a long time writing content and planning the imagery. The shoot was taken over 3 days and included a lot of unconventional lighting set ups..
This was to be my last work for Blue Room and unfortunately the book and series of images never made it to be being published as the Blue Room closed its doors.