Clay pot speakers: Combining ancient art with modern tech

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Traditional handmade clay pots made in Kampong Chhnang province. Hong Menea

To complete a school project, a freshman in telecommunication and electronics engineering, Dam Soksreyneang, 18, came up with the innovative concept of combining Kampong Chhnang province’s ancestral tradition of making pottery with audio technology.

Born in the central province of Kampong Chhnang, Soksreyneang is the youngest in her family. Her mother makes cookies and sells local fried snacks to support her and her brother’s education.

After passing the national high school examination last year, Soksreyneang enrolled as a scholarship student in the newly established Faculty of Engineering of the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

She is one of the few girls studying telecommunication and electronics engineering, a field the Kingdom has been trying to promote and build up.

In her second semester, Soksreyneang conceived the idea to combine entertainment technology with her cultural roots.

“I came up with the idea to integrate the trendy speaker gadget with the ancient art of clay pottery, which is a trade in my hometown. I decided to choose the clay pot which is the symbol of Kampong Chhnang province where I am from,” says Soksreyneang.

Meaning “pottery village” in Khmer, Kampong Chhnang’s identity is embedded in the tradition of making clay pottery.

Aiming to promote cultural identity and eco-friendly technology, her idea of using traditional handmade clay pots to build a speaker earned mixed reviews from spectators, with some criticising “the ridiculousness of the idea”.

However, Soksreyneang took the negative comments in her stride and vowed to continue developing the quality of her clay pot speaker.

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Kampong Chhnang province’s identity is embedded in the tradition of making clay pottery. Hong Menea

Due to limited funds and research, Soksreyneang decided to start small by maintaining the original shape of the clay pot while utilising affordable parts to build the sound system inside of it.

“I carefully made holes and installed two small speakers in the clay pot. Honestly, they’re very cheap ones with a pair costing only 20,000 riels ($5). They are what I can afford.

“I have to admit the quality of the sound was not very good [as] the quality also depends on how much you spend on parts,” she says.

Despite doing slight modifications to the clay pot, Soksreyneang was able to present her clay pot speaker in October without a break or crack in sight.

“I knew clay pots are easily breakable and cannot withstand sound vibration, but I fixed the flaw and improved the components.

“As a result, I was able to submit this unique speaker to the STEM camp and [participate in the] school final project exhibition [where I was] joined by some engineering professors from Korea,” she says proudly.

Even though the result of her efforts is commendable, the clay pot speaker is not without flaws. For instance, the pot could break if the sound vibrations get too strong.

The idea of combining the art of pottery with a sound system is neither new nor impossible. In collaboration with London-based company Keechdesign, Japan’s Yamaha Design Lab recently released a speaker design which combined pottery and audio technology.

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Dam Soksreyneang (left) holds her clay pot speakers. Photo supplied

Noting that ceramics is an excellent material that can provide rigidity and the ability to produce organic forms well-suited to high-quality audio, the Yamaha ceramic speakers was the result of the combined efforts of Japan’s tech expertise and the UK’s manufacturing knowledge.

Several prototypes of Yamaha’s ceramic speakers are now being tested for durability and sound quality.

Similarly, Soksreyneang says the fulfilment of the school requirement does not put an end to the project. She plans on improving her design. From sketching the shape and form of the pot to studying audio technology, she aims to develop a more functional clay pot speaker.

“After receiving positive and negative comments from friends and teachers, I am more motivated to make this my life’s project.

“My teacher who is an expert chemist advised me to do more research about clay and porcelain techniques. If I modify some components, I can make the speaker durable and unbreakable even with the system volume turned at its maximum.

“I’m working on making a clay pot speaker that is both beautiful and can generate rich sounds and beats in the near future,” she says.