The Printer for Broken Relationships

Made by Nurie Jeong, Willow Hong and Philip Gates

A project for people who want to cope with memories of break-up

Created: February 23rd, 2018

Final_TPBR (Converted)
Nurie Jeong -


Inspired by art therapy, we will illustrate a therapeutic ritual for people who experienced break-up recently but don’t want to destroy their objects or digital memories. Instead, they can detach their painful feelings from the object through the self-care activity using their objects. We started from the question how might people can embrace the change and move forward? Starting from our teammate's personal experience, we will use a digital playlist of music that one partner in the relationship made for the other, and convert this digital file to a beautiful physical piece of art.



We focused on the form of sound waves, which fluctuates more aggressively and jagged as it contains meaningless noises. It can be used as an analogy for rough times after breaking up. We decided to design a ritual for coping with the painful moments through art creation, particularly shifting the shape of jagged emotions to the smoother form. During the ritual, the user will print the sound wave into a jagged image through the imaginary printer. Then, the user will use tools to adjust the form/color of it. At the end of the ritual, he will get the beautiful image of his digital memories.



We started looking for the previous projects that relate to visualizing audio files and we were pretty much inspired by the tangible sound wave projects that Willow shared for her case study. The first project is SOUNDSCAPE, that selects a representative song for each region in Manhattan, and laser cut the songs as soundwaves on acrylic materials. The physicalized songs are mapped back onto Manhattan map to create a soundscape. Not only does it represent the Manhattan region, but it also reflects audio memories related to the space.

SOUNDSCAPE - The Physical Sounds of Manhattan

Here is even more experimental project named Brusspup - It visualizes sound in the form of running water. As the frequency of the sound changes, the swirling water changes its form in real time, which is visible and dynamic. The original sound is in a way transformed into the ambient sound of the water, which changes according to different sound input. The poetic motion of the water creates a visual memory cue that associates with a specific piece of audio memory. 

Amazing Water & Sound Experiment #2
brusspup -

While discussion, we got the another idea of printing sound waves and create another piece of tangible art as a ritual of art therapy. We visited the American Art Therapy Association website and saw the introduction video about what the art therapy is and how it works. The most impressive case we saw is the art therapy activity done for Japanese students who got a traumatic memory about the earthquake in 2011. The students collected dish and tile debris from the disaster scene and created artistic tiles with them.

We also came up with the idea of making sound waves as a smooth string and weave it as crochet clocks. Converting digital memories into another physical form that looks completely different, but aesthetically pleasant form resonates well with the basic concept of traditional art therapy. 

Art Therapy – The Movie
Arttherapy Centre -

We were also inspired by Alvin Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room" project, in which he recorded himself speaking in a room, then recorded a playback of that recording, and continued to iterate the sound, eventually ending up with a pure room tone. The idea of smoothing and transforming identifiable sound content into something more abstract excited us in connection with how sound might be transformed.

Alvin Lucier - I Am Sitting In A Room
TrilobiteJuice -


To demonstrate our concept, we assembled the kit required to use the Printer for Broken Relationships for art therapy. The kit contains the Printer, letter-sized acetate sheets, alcohol-based markers, a frame, an SD card for file transfer, and an instructional brochure explaining the contents, purpose, and methods of use.

We created a mockup of the printer itself, using the laser cutter to create its exterior "shell." We also constructed the clear acrylic picture frame to display the final artwork, and wrote and designed the instructional brochure. Ready-made components were sourced from our own belongings and the campus art store.

Using a song with personal history provided by Philip, we performed a demonstration (seen in the concept video below). Digitally mocked up images of iteratively distorted sound waves were printed sequentially on the acetate sheets. Philip then selected one of the distorted images and used the markers to create a drawing working through his feelings about the relationship, placing the resulting framed drawing in a prominent place in his home.

Therapy Kit
Introduction Pamphlet
Printed Digital Memories
Frame with Finished Art Piece


In our early conversations, we were excited by the idea of distilling/smoothing the jagged memory down to something pure (inspired partly by Lucier's project). Initially, our plan was to print the distorted sound wave images on top of some other image, and the art therapy component would be about smoothing or uncovering that image by removing the distorted "noise" placed on top of it (akin to resolving the negative emotions surrounding a breakup, leaving only the original pleasant memories). However, we were unable to resolve where this other image would come from– would it be an image of the couple, or of a location they had visited? Or a pleasant landscape or other innocuous image? Ultimately we decided that the first option might be too painful, defeating the purpose of reconstruction, and the second option lacked connection and thus therapeutic potential. This led to our decision to print only the sound "noise" visuals, and let the person performing the ritual transform it into their own abstract image that would have meaning for them.

We also made a change to the material we were printing on. Initially we had planned to simply print on paper. We also discussed printing on canvas, or fabric, or even printing the sound waves in string form as seen in the research above. We settled on acetate because of the possibility to overlay the various printed iterations on top of each other. The process of transformation felt important, and we decided this would be a way of allowing all phases of the process to be legible if the person performing the ritual wanted to bring that element into their final artwork.


Open Questions and Challenges

While we believe this ritual does have therapeutic effects (see personal reflection below), one open question is about the speed at which these therapeutic effects can take place. Our ritual as currently designed can be performed within an hour. How quickly is it possible to form new memories or associations surrounding an artifact that has painful memories associated with it? What if memory is stronger than our attempts to control or rehabilitate it?

In our feedback session, we discussed whether the printer would be best deployed as a DIY toolkit that individuals buy for themselves, or whether it might be more effective inside of a professional therapy session. What is the social aspect of re-encountering memories or the process of letting go – is this a process best done on one's own or with others? If alone, how much guidance might be required when designing for forgetting (i.e. did we need even more detailed instructions)? If with others, what does this offer that performing the ritual alone would not? How do we process negative emotions associated with memory (such as grief or anger) individually vs. socially, and what might be the benefits of each?


Group Reflection

One of our goals was to focus on transforming memories into something new and creating positive associations where before there were only negative ones. From this standpoint our critiques found our ritual compelling, plausible, and likely to be effective at doing just that. We believe the foundational concept of our design is successful.

From the feedback we received and our own discussions, there are a few areas in which we could have gone further with the design. First, the idea of making this a longer, durational process would help to address the question above about speed of rehabilitation, and make the process and eventual artwork more meaningful and thus hopefully more therapeutic. Printing one transformed image a day for a month would be one way to slow down the process and make it more formal. There might even be specific instructions for what to think about on each day, as you travel further down the road of letting go.

Second, we would like to finesse the printer itself a little further. The question was raised whether the special printer is actually necessary to the therapeutic ritual, or if the intention of the ritual could be accomplished without it, as simply software that you could use to transform the sound waves (or other data from other artifacts) and print anywhere. We are still interested in the idea of a physical object especially for this purpose, so that you see the transformation occurring physically and not just digitally, but we can definitely get more specific with how this occurs. Some great suggestions that were offered include a printer that is more like a plotter and would allow you to see each image being constructed gradually, in a more transparent and more visceral way. Another was to add a light box so that the deformations are more easily seen each time they are printed.

Finally, it would be helpful to make a firm decision about context: is this kit designed for home use or as a professional therapist's tool? This would affect packaging and level of detail in the instructional brochure.


Personal Reflection

This is Philip, writing to speak specifically to my personal experience as not only a creator but performer of this ritual.

A little over six months ago, I ended a relationship with a serious romantic partner. Having made use of an artifact from this relationship in the time capsule exercise earlier in the course, and having disposed of letters from my ex as part of the warmup for this investigation, he was very much on my mind. I was interested in thinking about transforming negative memories rather than destroying them completely, and brought this interest to my team– they encouraged me to share my experience and we decided to use that personal experience to inspire our ritual.

I selected a song from an album that my ex loved and which he bought for me as a gift (from iTunes, so the digital file we used was actually itself the original gift). We shot the concept video in my apartment, where the two of us listened to the album and this song together for the first time. I made the artwork on the same table where he and I ate dinner while we listened.

The ritual was cathartic and transformational for me, certainly. Engaging with the song as an abstract arrangement of colored patterns was easier than listening to it in its proper form. And the added transformation with the markers felt satisfyingly haptic and active in a way the digital transformation did not. I selected colors for my drawing that engaged with and built on the colors the printer had given me, which felt like a way of paying respect to the artifact (and relationship) while still making it something new. And the final drawing that resulted from my gut impulses surprised me, the images evoking resonances I hadn't intentionally created. I look forward to seeing how my relationship with the drawing (and the song) evolves as it continues to live in my home.

I will say that it is hard to separate my experience of the process from the experience of the ritual itself. While I do feel some of the therapeutic effects we hoped our ritual would achieve, I also believe the ritual has more meaning for me because I helped to design it than it might for someone who simply "unboxed" our kit. The additional memories surrounding the class, the project, and the process mean that I have stronger new memories now associated with the song, additional structures to help me let go. The process itself became a ritual for me, and in future I would recommend someone trying to forget or let go create their own ritual to do so. With this in mind, I wonder how in future investigations I can design for even more agency on the part of the person whose memory is in question.

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A project for people who want to cope with memories of break-up