Introduction: The Evocation Machine: Evoking Memories of Tahunanui Beach

This is a description of how I made a personalized memory aid - The Evocation Machine - to recall days spent walking on an iconic New Zealand Beach, for a friend who had moved away and missed the experience.

Step 1: The Evocation Machine: a Personalized Memory Box

I have a friend who is a pastor. Some years ago he lived and worked in a
town called Nelson at the top end of New Zealand's South Island. Scenically beautiful, with mountains, ocean and the stunning Abel Tasman National Park on its doorstep, Nelson enjoys the highest number of days of sunshine per year in NZ. Jewel in the crown however is the beautiful Tahunanui Beach which stretches for miles and is a favourite spot for strolling, swimming, sun-bathing, and, when the wind is in the right quarter, kite-surfing. Now my friend was in the habit of strolling along this magnificent beach in all kinds of weather, to wrestle with his problems, plan out his sermons, or simply commune with nature. When he and his family left Nelson and moved up to Auckland, he once confided to me that the thing he missed most was his walks along Tahunanui beach. As luck would have it, I was going to be visiting the Abel Tasman Park on a vacation, so I determined to bring back some sand and shells from the beach and make this into a memory box for him. More than this, it was to be an "Evocation Machine" which would evoke memories of that particular beach, by accessing a number of sensory channels - sight, sound, smell and touch.

Step 2: Tahunanui Beach in Nelson, New Zealand

This is the beach and the experience of walking along this beach was what I wanted to evoke. If you view the video ( apologies for the poor quality), listen to the soundtrack - you will hear a car draw up and stop. the door open and close and footsteps crunching across the gravel , then the calling of seabirds and the sounds of waves lapping the shore, before some of my friend's favourite music starts to play. Again imagine strolling along the beach with a playlist of your favourite music playing through your earbuds.

Step 3: First Steps: the Box

Normally one begins with a list of materials needed. In my projects I start with an idea - I seldom have a fixed plan in mind - and work with what I have and what I can find/scavenge/ re-purpose. Like most of my Instructables therefore, this is more of a show-and-tell rather than "here's a recipe". Hopefully, it will inspire others to go out and make their own versions of a multi-sensory memory box.

In this case, the start point was a bag of shells and sand from a beach. I started out with the idea of a sandbox and then embellished this concept as I went along. The box I chose was an old writing case from the store-room of an antique store. Originally, it would have dated to about 1890 and was made of wood with a fine maple veneer. By the time I acquired it however, it was in a sorry state with the veneer split and missing in parts, the internal furnishings lost or damaged, the brass edge trim and the lock missing and the hinges bent. The first step was therefore to restore the box. This was achieved by stripping off the layers of old varnish and then fine sanding.

Step 4: The Faceplate

As can be seen in the completed box, there is a handsome face-plate on the lid, to identify the device and to make good the surface defect in the original box. As this was to be an Evocation Machine ( the aim being to evoke in my friend memories of his time at Tahunanui Beach), I wanted my face-plate to show this. Moreover, I wanted it to be in a Victorian style. Accordingly, I downloaded a script called Victorian Parlor, and used this in Adobe Illustrator, to make my logo design. this was then etched onto a suitable brass stock plate, by using P-N-P blue sheet. There are a number of guides to this and similar etching techniques available online, so I won't go into details. The design is reverse etched and the hollowed out sections painted in with black metal primer before the plate is polished and sealed.

Step 5: The Internal Workings of the Machine

This device was designed to evoke memories of a time and place, namely a beach. If one thinks of a beach, a number of aspects spring to mind - the smell of the ocean, the ozone and seaweedy smell; the cool ocean breeze; the sound of the surf or the gentle susurration of waves on the sand; the feel of sand between your toes, and, of course, the sight of a wide beach and the over-arching sky. To capture these elements I added to my box a scent dispenser and a directed fan to recreate the smell of the ocean and the gentle sea breeze. A sound card with pre-recorded sounds of the arrivalat, approach to and then walking on the beach beside the sea. A digital photo-frame with multiple images of Tahunanui beach and a background soundtrack of waves on the beach inter-cut with a playlist of my friend's favourite music, such as he liked to listen to while walking on the beach. And of course, the sandbox, containing the sand from the beach, plus a small bucket and spade and a pair of carved wooden feet, so he could still leave footprints on the beach sand as of yore. The lid of the sand box I decorated with a painting I made of the beach and on the underside of the lid I stuck a poem I wrote about the beach. Finally,I included a small notebook, detailing the construction and illustrating the various mechanisms and the lyrics to the songs I had uploaded.

The pictures give some idea of how it all fits together.

The project took a few months to complete, working on weekends and in my spare time and provided some interesting challenges. All in all though, it was worthwhile, fun, and very well received by its intended recipient.I apologize for the poor quality of this Instructable, but it is just a thumbnail sketch of how I put an idea into action and its not intended as a step-by-step guide on how to reproduce the same thing. that being said, I'd love to hear of other versions of the idea.

Invention Challenge 2017

Participated in the
Invention Challenge 2017