French audio specialist Devialet adds new lustre to its flagship product, the Phantom I, with this limited edition designed by artists Yang Bao and Wa Liu. Created to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Dragon, the collaboration attains new levels of craftsmanship, technology and design. Bao and Liu have previously worked together on installations and projects, including for Dior.
This new collaboration appealed to the artists’ shared strengths and interests. Bao studied piano at the New England Conservatory of Music but evolved into an installation artist working with transformational soundscapes. Liu graduated from Yale and MIT; her video-based work focuses on anthropology, global history and geopolitics. ‘Coming from a classical piano background, it was a very exciting project for me personally,’ says Bao, whereas Liu describes her interests as being at the ‘intersection of humans and technology’.
This rich cross-disciplinary approach is part of their ongoing work exploring the physical representation of sound. ‘Multisensory projects are at the core of our collaboration,’ says Liu, ‘it’s all-encompassing.’
Bao describes the Phantom as being akin to a musical instrument, an ‘object that performs’. ‘I feel that the Phantom is visually fascinating,’ he continues, ‘it’s appearance, the weight, the shape of the speakers – it almost has a personality.’
Devialet Phantom Animal marks Year of the Dragon
Their chosen pattern not only celebrates the start of the Chinese Year of the Dragon, but also the intersection of the idea of the dragon in Western and Eastern cultures. ‘The colours and textures reference the dragon of our cultural imagination,’ says Liu. ‘It symbolises a way of being, something that is so deeply integrated into our way of life. In contrast, in the US, the dragon is a fire-breathing, fantastical creation – a powerful magical symbol.’
The limited-edition Phantom Animal, blends this unifying symbol of the dragon in Chinese culture with its more fearsome Western counterpart, with the combination of 22.5ct gold and polished red varnish mixing up nature and music, power and serenity.
The artists point out that the reflectivity of the materials helps the speaker blend into its surroundings, another element of counterpoint in the project, as the Phantom is deliberately designed to be a sculptural speaker. Bao explains that it also represents the dichotomy between the immediacy of digital media and the endurance of analogue craft.
‘It’s much faster to make music and create objects [with digital tools], but I haven’t lost my love of analogue synthesisers and acoustic pianos,’ he says.
‘We live in two extremes,’ Liu adds. ‘We love the convenience and speed of technology but also want to experience these physical, analogue connections.’
Created in close collaboration with Ateliers Gohard, the established Parisian gilding specialist, this take on the Phantom I 108 dB demonstrates hitherto unknown levels of artistry.
Gohard was founded in 1962 and is now in third-generation family ownership. After specialising in architectural restoration, with projects including the dome of Les Invalides in Paris, interiors in the Élysée Palace, and the Statue of Liberty on the Île aux Cygnes, the company branched out into the luxury goods market at the turn of the last decade, and its collaboration with Devialet began with the original Opéra de Paris edition of the Phantom.
Sarah Pomel, workshop manager at Ateliers Gohard, describes how the red lacquer varnish posed a particular challenge, as not only did the design combine gold leaf and red lacquer, but the latter required three painstaking layers of application.
‘From beginning to end, the whole process takes two weeks,’ she explains. ‘We obviously work on a number of units at the same time.’ Two gilders have been working full-time on the project, brushing hammered gold leaf onto the surface of the Phantom, juxtaposing it with the thin lines of red lacquer.
For Nathalie Chopra, chief brand officer at Devialet, the project was a unique opportunity to mix artistry with engineering. ‘We call Phantom a living beast,’ she says, ‘because it moves with the music and makes you feel alive.’ Described as ‘French savoir-faire meets Chinese artistic flair’, the project challenged Devialet and Ateliers Gohard to push the limits of combining high-tech manufacturing with craft processes.
Chopra acknowledges the importance of the Chinese market to the company, where French luxury brands are prized and the audiophile scene is growing fast. Although still a relative newcomer to the high-end audio scene, Devialet has established itself as a major player, renowned for its combination of craft, quality and cutting-edge acoustic technology. The collaboration also connects the company to China’s important art scene.
‘Even eight years after we launched Phantom, it is still very recognisable,’ Chopra says. ‘We continually update the technology and software to keep it current.’
Just 150 examples of the Devialet Phantom Animal edition will be made, and its desirability is a testament to the enduring quality of the original Phantom design. Together, Bao and Liu have unleashed a different kind of beast on the world of high-end audio.
Devialet Phantom Animal, price on application, Devialet.com, @devialet
Yang Bao, YangBaoStudio.com, @yangbao__
Wa Liu, Wa-Liu.com, @wa.liu
Ateliers Gohard, Ateliers-Gohard.com, @groupe_gohard