Seashell Headphones

Posted by Remo Giuffré on

Hands Free Sound of the Sea

Some ideas are so wonderful, so serendipitous, and so intuitively and immediately pleasing that even we get stuck for words to describe them.

Seashell resonance refers to a popular folk myth that the sound of the ocean may be heard through seashells, particularly conch shells. The resonant sounds are actually created from ambient noise in the surrounding environment by the processes of reverberation and (acoustic) amplification within the cavity of the shell. The ocean-like quality of seashell resonance is due in part to the similarity between airflow and ocean movement sounds. The association of seashells with the ocean likely plays an additional role.

These Seashell Headphones, enabling a delightful and hands-free version of this experience, were developed by REMO in joint venture with the concept originators: Sydney artists Joyce Hinterding and Ian Hobbs.

The idea was birthed at a 1987 art installation where Joyce had hung ten headsets along a wall … each one placed just above a small wooden chair. Sort of like a white noise relaxation parlour.

Soon after this auspicious debut, we began to sell them as one-off handcrafted items at REMO in Darlinghurst. (At the time REMO had a entire department dedicated to the work of contemporary artists and jewellers, many of them with studios nearby. Think modern day Etsy, but in physical form.)

The early handcrafted versions were expensive (A$300) and sold slowly … including one to the National Gallery of Australia for their collection.

For a long time there was a desire to have them redesigned to make them less expensive and accessible to more people. Ultimately, a problem solver came along in the form of Sydney designer Thomas Burless, and the 1993 version featured above was the result of his work and labour.

The headpiece was made from black anodised aluminium and the side fittings paladium-plated brass and bronze.

The most magical bits were the shells themselves: thick, speckled and glossy … they used to house “cowries” a common and non-endangered species of marine snail found in the coastal waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

From a commercial perspective, Remo (the person) committed a disproportionate amount of time and money on the development, legal protection and worldwide promotion of this product over the years. A founder’s folly. No regrets though. Love is blind.

There are about 200 of these out there (along with some unauthorised copies) … confusing house cleaners all over the world.

Madonna owns a REMO original. So does David Byrne. Maybe you do too? Let us know.


Wikipedia Reference: Seashell resonance | (Text) CC BY-SA


1. Seashell Headphones. Industrially designed 1993 version developed by REMO in collaboration with “Signalen” (Joyce Hinterding & Ian Hobbs) with Thomas Burless.
2. Joyce Hinterding. Soundwave: Induction - Resonator Wave 2012. Photo: Zan Wemberly.
3. REMO Catalogue 1990. Earlier handmade version featured.
4. REMO People 1990. Artist Hugh Ramage wears the Seashell Headphones.
5. REMO Catalogue 1994. Sea Shell Headphones Featured.
6. People Wearing Seashell Headphones. Members of Remo’s network being subjected to routine humiliation.
7. Seashell Headphones Detail.

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  • Chris, No we never tried to install speakers in the headphones. The idea came out of our research into noise and information. I was interested in brownian motion and visible harmonics. Joyce was interested in audio harmonics. So from the beginning the ideas were driven by amplifying natural systems and comparing them across spectrum. Joyce had quite a bit of experience with psycho affective theories. For the record Joyce did all the production on these phones, I was merely a collaborator. We both worked with Remo on product redesign for commercialisation. It was lots of fun and difficult to go beyond the artisan workshop.

    Ian Hobbs on
  • Remo, did you ever try installing headphone speakers in the base of the spiral? Could have. Magical effect on sound reproduction.

    Chris on
  • Would like to buy one of these; please reply here if interested in selling!

    David on
  • I do recall desiring these soooo much, alas sadly, am not an owner of an example of this iconoclastic collaborative genius.

    Vicki on

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