Creative Speakers That Mix Cutting-Edge Technology with Ancestral Knowledge
A hand-crafted clay speaker brand starts an arts and crafts movement
The couple fell in love with the pottery of a unique region in Central South Chile, and they realized that the high-density clay from the area would be great for sound quality.
Mapu Speakers, an innovative company that makes creative speakers out of handmade clay pots, has created an entirely new industry for traditional potters by partnering with artisans in Chile and Portugal.
“Our mission goes beyond making speakers. We dream of a crafts revolution to highlight traditional handcrafts in our industrialized world, building a bridge between ancestral knowledge and technology,” write the company’s founders Pablo Ocqueteau and Philine von Düszeln on the company’s website.
A global business, made locally
Ocqueteau and von Düszeln are from Chile and Germany respectively, and they met while studying in Spain. Today, they work with artisans around the world to build their speakers out of local materials before they finalize the product at Sound Hub Denmark, an elite incubator for audio companies.
Neither of them came from a manufacturing or audio background, however. Instead, they were working on documentaries about traditional crafts. “We were down in the south of Chile and we came up with a question. ‘What would a Chilean audio speaker actually look like? What would the design be? What is the craft, the materials? What exists here that we could use?’” von Düszeln says.
The couple fell in love with pottery and realized that the high-density clay from the area would be great for sound quality. They created a prototype with local artisan Santos Herrera and called it Mapuguaquén, which means “sound of the earth” in the Mapuche language.
That first speaker got featured in a 2010 international competition by Designboom, but the high investment costs pushed Ocqueteau and von Düszeln to shelve the project and move on with their careers in documentary filmmaking.
In the years to come, the couple continued to get media attention and emails from people asking how to buy their speaker. In 2014, they decided to revisit their project. They worked with Portuguese potter Ricardo Lopes to build new prototypes, which turned out to be much better than the original.
The couple took the new version to Salone Satellite in Milan in 2015 as part of a major design competition.
The response was overwhelming. “In the end, we won a prize and were interviewed in all the magazines and newspapers,” says Ocqueteau.
A new approach to production
The couple eventually moved back to Chile to create a full line of Mapuguaquén speakers. In 2018, they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money they needed to invest. They reached their goal within just two hours, allowing them to hire audio and electrical engineers and to source the materials and the components locally.
The novelty of making Bluetooth speakers in Chile garnered them a great deal of media attention in that country. In addition, Ocqueteau and von Düszeln had tapped into a growing desire around the world to capitalize on the emerging ability of small communities to compete with global brands.
Their initial products had a Chilean design and were made available to the local market. Soon, the couple was back in Portugal to prepare Mapu Preto with the brothers Luis and José Lourosa from Molelos. This new batch of speakers had an improved design and acoustics, and they were able to expand into Europe.
Today, their goal is to craft new versions of the speaker with a wider range of artisans around the world. Nearly every country has its own style of pottery, and these audio speakers are a way to infuse traditional cultures into otherwise generic products. With this approach, Mapu Speakers aspires to keep local cultural heritage thriving.
Ocqueteau and von Düszeln continue to win awards for their game-changing innovations in production, sound quality, and cultural preservation. With each batch of speakers, they learn and grow. Most recently they won the What Design Can Do – No Waste Challenge in 2021.
“We’re looking at artisan communities from Ethiopia, Japan, and other places. We have millennia of traditions and crafts to work with, and we have a great perspective to make something new with this ancestral knowledge,” von Düszeln says.
Nearly every country has its own style of pottery, and these audio speakers are a way to infuse traditional cultures into otherwise generic products.