Ultimate Ears | In Conversation with Ini Archibong and Hassan Rahim

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Ultimate Ears, creators of the luxurious CSX Earphones, enlist director Hassan Rahim and designer Ini Archibong to collaborate on new short film Odyssey in Sound, out today. In a journey from tight quarters to the world outside, the film takes viewers on a trip, showcasing the immersive quality of the CSX’s. Created in the midst of the pandemic, the film exemplifies a desire to escape—a need to explore. And in the desire, the CSX’s provide a glimpse into another world.

Below, Rahim and Archibong discuss meeting in Los Angeles, the digital versus technological, and more.

How did you both meet, and how did the two of you working on this project together come about?

Hassan: I know we met through a really close friend, Rodrigo, who is an incredible designer and one of Ini's understudies for a while. He's a good friend of mine and runs a studio called Nuova and became a really close friend in LA. And he was like, ‘you have to meet Ini.’ We connected and just shared a bond. We had no idea. We had just both been creative nerds in LA and sort of the black sheep of our crew.

We connected on this project. We connected in general, but then you had this project in mind, and we had to start talking from there. 

Ini: Yeah. I mean, from, from my perspective, it was like, it was a no brainer. When Rodrigo introduced us online and I had seen some of Hassan’s work, I was in the middle of working with Ultimate Ears. We were having discussions about what it takes to transition a product like the CSX from being known in the professional realm, into the space of luxury. Hassan’s work immediately came to mind.

It's not like it's not Afro punk, just cause he's black. It's like the sampling nature that references a hip hop aesthetic as well as being DIY and a bit like future-retro. And then on top of that, the emotional quality of Hassan’s work was another thing. Based on everything I know about luxury, they really capture your soul and move you emotionally to tell you how great the product is.

I wanted to talk about the sort of contrast of this looking analog, and starting off very tech heavy, and then the surrounds introducing natural elements. There's like this clash between technology and nature.

Hassan: Yeah, that was exactly the idea, as you said. The sort of crux of the concept is escapism. So I think the idea of being trapped in the confines of a bedroom, or even a theoretical room, which could be a mental space, you put on headphones, and travel. The way I see this, this is actually a travel story. So you're transcending from one state to another, into another, into another

Ini: You imagined it to be like a post-COVID, post-apocalyptic travel agency or something like that. You put the headphones in, it's like the travel agency taking you away. 

Hassan: I was, at the time, watching Eternal Sunshine and like Total Recall, and these movies that are based in like the dream state, or blurring the line between what’s imagined and reality. 

There’s a way to elevate this real world that we experience. How do you feel that technology can improve our lives? 

Hassan: I want to admit that something like this is an integral part of our lives. I mean, I can't even go to a restaurant without a phone because I won't be able to see the menu.

I don't think I like that part.

Ini: There's so many benefits. I think one of the biggest things that technology has the potential to do is to encourage us to tap into our own innate hyper potential, you know? It's opening up the opportunity to like tap into something that might be harder to tap into without psychedelics or something. When you put in these earphones, it truly isolates you from the rest of the world. The sound really feels like it's coming from the center of your body. The escapism is a real thing. And I do think that the film illustrates that very well. I think the people that own the product already, when they see the film, it'll make sense. They'll be like, yeah, this is what happens every time I listen to music.

You're talking about music being this escape and, we're talking so much about how the sound is obviously so important. Tell me about the music in the film. 

Hassan: We made this really cinematic sound experience that is fully produced original composition by Jacques Greene, an electronic music producer, and he's one of those people that makes dance music that taps into another sort of mental space when it comes to emotion, euphoria, and the ebbs and flows of bridges, crescendos, climaxes, peaks, and valleys. I think that as a huge fan of his work and collaborators as well, he was the perfect person for that. A little bit of inspiration was pulled from films. 

Ini: When I watch it, it's almost as if the music is the protagonist, right? Living music is its own character in the end. It's like a dialogue between the music and the main protagonist. Whenever I'm looking at storytelling, it's kind of ingrained in us to lean on the tropes of the monomyth to some degree. So I always look at it through that lens, music and the dancers are two main characters. It's almost like the music is the dancer’s Yoda, right. 

Mentioning these new possibilities, is there anything that you're looking forward to in the next year?

Ini: I'm hoping I can get five or six booster shots. 

Hassan: I think what's exciting about 2022 is I don't know what it is I'm looking at. I just know that down the end of the tunnel, there is a light, it's super faint, and we've come out of like a very difficult two years. But looking forward to anything specific seems indefinite in a lot of ways, but like there's an optimism looming over 2022 that I can't unpack yet, but I'm just gonna go one day at a time because I see it in the distance.

And as far as what I'm looking to achieve, I'm looking to make my work a lot more strongly focused in giving back to the community. So whatever that looks like, whether that's even just mentoring or charitable donations or partnering with brands. But I really want young artists to have the tools they need and the confidence they need to know that they can do what Ini and I do for living

Ini: I think the most exciting thing professionally is honestly what is starting here. It's a different space for somebody who's trained in industrial design, luxury, branding to take on working with a very large tech company. And engaging with a technology company that essentially creates the tools that us creatives use all the time in order to do what we can do. 

Tell me about the imagery for the campaign.

Ini: You want to talk about that? The original inspiration, like the veins and the x-rays.

Hassan: As far as the photos go , unlike all these other headphones that are on the market, it's this sort of amorphous shape that is genuinely molded. It's the most human design I can think of. And the features of the headphone are all accentuated through the way it actually fits to the human body. So it's like extreme ergonomics. Some of the inspiration I was thinking about were jellyfish and glass blowing

Ini: One image that you had was like when you look at a fetus and you can see it before all the pigmentation and you see all the veins and everything. You see kind of the internal organs

Hassan: The concept is all about adaptation. We focus on the storytelling of the headphones, how they're malleable to any person with a unique anatomy and how they conform to meet your needs, not the other way around. 

The way we photographed it was extremely macro. I think there's probably over 30 to 50 shots composed into a single composition. It's all analog photography. 

Ini: And then the other thing that was really cool is that, the earbuds that you see on the market more or less are becoming pretty homogenous, hyper shiny, flat color, plastic. Even in reality, they look like a rendering, like stuck in somebody's head. I guess you could say integrity, you know, the integrity that comes with analog, you don't see it inherent in the product as much as you do here. And you also don't see it in the way the product is captured. 

Hassan: What's important about what we did is we have to show the sort of video syntheses of injection molding. So you can see some of that in there where, if it was CG, we're not going to see a single flaw. They're not flaws by the way, but features of the product. It's like, that's what water does. It flows, it defies. And this is a really crucial part of how we wanted to capture it.