Ambient Addition is Noah Vawter's master's thesis project at the MIT Media Lab, and it's the best idea I've heard in ages. I must have one.
Ambient Addition is a Walkman with binaural microphones. A tiny Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chip analyzes the microphone's sound and superimposes a layer of harmony and rhythm on top of the listener's world.Follow the link above to watch a Quicktime video demonstration. As explained in the video, when you walk around with Ambient Addition, it creates music from the noise all around you by phase vocoding the microphones' sound with its own internal sequence of chords. For more staccato sounds it records short samples then rearranges them into rhythms.
I love music, so I use a portable listening device all the time, but it can be very isolating. Something is lost when you don't get to interact with the audio component of the world around you. The notion of a device that immerses the user in the actual sonic environment s/he inhabits by enhancing the musical characteristics of that environment has instant appeal.
In the new context, some surprising behaviors take place. Listeners tend to play with objects around them, sing to themselves, and wander toward tempting sound sources. With Ambient Addition, I'm hoping to make people think twice about the sounds they initiate as well as loosen up some inhibitions.