Creating an Oceanic Orchestra

Business is always changing. New ideas are eclipsing antiquated ones, concepts are being realized at record pace and more people are seeking innovative ways to make their mark on the business landscape. Take Lia Ditton, for example. A British artist and professional sailor, Lia is designing the first-ever digital orchestra using the ocean as inspiration. BOLD recently sat down with Lia to discuss the many aspects of this unique project.

BOLD: The thought of turning a state-of-the-art race boat into a digital orchestra is extremely intriguing. What was the genesis behind this idea?
LD: The idea for the Open Boat Orchestra (OBO) was seeded back in 2002, when I watched the America’s Cup live on television for the first time. When the boat tacked, the jib moved so swiftly across the bow that it simply went flunk! The next sound was ghrrrr! The main wasn’t being trimmed, it was trimmed: one single action, one sound bite! So I began thinking, what if you could hear all the other dynamic forces at play? What would that sound like?

When load sensors began appearing on boats, I realized that through technology, the dynamic forces at play were now measurable and that the experience of sailing as a whole—with all its nuances of acceleration, deceleration, inertia, momentum and motion—could be turned into audio. What’s more, the physical journey of sailing non-stop around the world could be shared and brought to life for millions of people, through the universal language of music.

BOLD: What do you hope to accomplish with this initiative?
LD: Already tipped by the British press to be ‘The Voice of the Ocean,’ the core mission behind the OBO project is to engage millions of people worldwide with the ocean, only in a new, upbeat, participative and compelling way. The OBO Box—the technology we are developing in order to translate the forces of wind and waves, as well as the physical journey of the boat and crew, into music—has never been done before. The underlying business objective, which sprung out of overwhelming public interest, is to bring the OBO Box to market for sail or motor boaters to experience.

As a sailor, what excites me is that by listening into the boat as it ‘composes,’ we may be able to trim the boat to a degree beyond what it is possible to see or feel. Lifeboat drivers and race boat helms, for example, will be able to take in other elements outside their area of immediate visual focus. We foresee families with young children or teenagers engaging through the technology with boating in a novel and interesting way.

Pleasure aside, the OBO Box has huge potential as a learning tool for mariners around the world, as it will teach them to be more aware of the dynamics of a boat in motion, how one element reacts with another and the harmonies that occur when all elements are running at their optimum. For example, alarm settings are common aboard ships, but through the OBO Box we can tailor the sound of those alarms to the cause of the problem. From the sensory impaired to anyone heading into shallow waters or preparing to anchor, an audible depth sounder made possible by the OBO Box could become the norm. 

BOLD: How are you leveraging partners to accomplish your goals?
In the wake of the BP oil disaster, there has never been a more apt time to address the issue of the condition of the oceans. OBO will partner with a new charity called the BLUE Marine Foundation to deliver a lasting legacy of positive change, as well as raise awareness of the critical need for a global network of marine reserves. Its mission is to raise the proportion of the oceans under protection from one percent to 10 percent in 10 years. The charity’s official launch is at the end of September, and by partnering with them, we can share resources and double our reach.

BOLD: What have you learned so far while working on this project? What has it taught you about life and business?
I’ve learned to passionately believe in what you do and to keep the faith through rejections or setbacks— these are strong keys to success. What I didn’t realize at the beginning was that companies weren’t just buying into my OBO concept; they were buying into me, as well. When it comes down to it, it is passion combined with due diligence (and a good idea!) that really sells. Success in life is like success in business— I’ve always admired people who are dogged, who just never give up.

BOLD: How can business minds, entrepreneurs and fans of the project contribute?
The more people know about the OBO project and what it has to offer in return, the more likely it is to succeed. I invite business minds, entrepreneurs and existing fans to communicate the project among their networks. To help them do that, there is a YouTube channel, a Web site and a Facebook page.

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