In the UK and all over the world there are people with varying levels of hearing loss from mild to profound deafness, from children with glue ear to those who have lost hearing at a later stage in life.
Many deaf people play musical instruments and take part in music activities on a daily basis. It is a misconception that they cannot, or do not, participate in and enjoy music.
As with hearing young people, participating in music activities can have many benefits for children and young people who are d/Deaf. Music can help children increase their confidence, encourage learning about emotions and help develop fine motor skills.*
How might d/Deaf people appreciate and perform music?
Musicians with hearing loss often use the vibration of their instrument, or the surface to which it is connected, to help them feel the sound that they create, so although they may not be able to hear, d/Deaf people can use the vibrations caused by musical sounds to help them ‘listen’ to music.
Deaf singers like Mandy Harvey, stand barefoot on the floor in order to feel these vibrations. Percussionist Evelyn Glennie is also particularly renowned for this and even Beethoven is said to have used the vibrations felt through his piano in his later years, when he was profoundly deaf. Deaf people attending a musical event people may use a balloon or a loudspeaker to feel vibrations caused by the performers.
The Musical Vibrations equipment is a highly efficient and hands-free way of harnessing these all-important vibrations caused by sound.
The role of vibration in interactive performance for d/Deaf musicians
“I adapted to follow music by feeling the beats through vibration”**
When playing with other musicians, it’s incredibly important that all the performers keep in time with each other.
To do this, hearing musicians use a variety of ‘cues’; the most obvious are auditory (audible) cues from listening to each others’ performance. Visual cues from other musicians are also important. In orchestral and large ensemble works these are provided by a conductor’s baton, but such cues are also provided by other performers in small groups. A quick glance, raised eyebrow or nod of the head can convey meaning.
Some d/Deaf musicians still have some hearing so some sound may still be perceptible to the musician. However, audible (auditory) cues are not available to profoundly d/Deaf musicians, and visual cues will not always provide sufficient information for interactive rehearsal and performance to be enjoyable and effective, which is why vibration is of such importance to d/Deaf musicians.
“Music is felt on a physical level by everyone. Getting a buzzing in our core when the bass is plucked or feeling the power of a drum that mimics our life force is universal. A hearing person can only try to imagine the sensations that are much more developed in a deaf person. One can try touching the ground and placing a back against walls at shows trying to see if they can tell the difference in rhythm and the type of instrument being played by the feelings that hum along the body when the music infiltrates the molecules in in the walls and in ourselves as well”***
This is why it is thought that the application of vibrotactile technology to interactive performance by d/Deaf musicians has such great potential.
* SOURCE: HOW TO MAKE MUSIC ACTIVITIES ACCESSIBLE FOR DEAF CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE, NATIONAL DEAF CHILDREN’S SOCIETY www.ndcs.org.uk/me2
** SOURCE: LEE WALKER @ IT’STHATDEAFGUY, WRITING IN THE GUARDIAN
*** SOURCE: AHARONA AMENT, BEYOND VIBRATIONS: THE DEAF EXPERIENCE IN MUSIC
People who are d/Deaf already visit live music events and enjoy them greatly; especially when efforts are made to ensure that they are as accessible as possible.
The charity Attitude is Everything improves Deaf and disabled people’s access to live music by working in partnership with audiences, artists and the music industry. They recently produced a report on barriers faced by Deaf and disabled people in obtaining tickets.
Sally Reynolds also brought the issue of access to public attention recently with her legal action against a concert promoter. She enjoys accompanying her daughter to live music events and, as a BSL user, finds that live performance signing in BSL helps her to experience the event on a more equal footing with hearing people.
“People with sensory impairment actually want to attend musical and sporting events just as anybody else does. The fact that you have a hearing impairment or sight loss doesn’t mean that you don’t want to be at the event. So it is important that venues and promoters recognise that the legal duties to make reasonable adjustments extend to them. It is an important way of making society more inclusive.”*
SignKid, a signsong rapper and producer, who is Deaf, describes seeing Public Enemy at the O2 in London as the greatest musical experience of his life. This was largely driven by the fact that he was very close to the main sound system and could feel the vibrations from it. Many d/Deaf people report being able to feel vibrations from music by touching vibrating surfaces such as loudspeakers.
We feel that using the Musical Vibrations equipment at a live music event may further enhance the musical experience of a d/Deaf person in three ways:
- Firstly, vibrotactile shakers are highly efficient at producing vibration (unlike a loudspeaker, which is highly efficient at generating sound).
- Secondly, when someone touches a vibrating surface or loudspeaker at a live event, they are feeling the combined vibrations from every instrument on one vibrating surface. The Musical Vibrations equipment, in contrast, allows four to six separate instrument signals to be presented as vibrotactile feedback across four to six different vibrotactile shakers. We believe that it will be easier for people who are d/Deaf to tell the instruments apart and appreciate more detail in the music because of this.
- Using the vibrotactile shakers removes the potential for variations between different live event spaces caused by the differing architectural and vibro-acoustic properties of the buildings themselves and the sound systems within them. Hence the experience of a d/Deaf person at Venue A could be expected to be more similar to their experience at Venue B, despite them being of different construction.
Music fans who are d/Deaf
We are now ready to invite music fans who are d/Deaf to try the Musical Vibrations kit out at a live music event.
We need to find out:
- How the experience of having four separate vibrotactile sources from different musical instruments enhances the experience of being at a live music event
- Whether using the equipment from a slightly raised position and with bare feet makes users feel self conscious such that it presents a barrier to the use of the equipment and, if so, what we can do about it
- If using the equipment is comfortable to use over the duration of an average live music event
- The best language to use in an instruction manual so that the equipment is easy and safe to use if you’re using it for the first time.
If you’re a music fan who is d/Deaf and you are interested in working with us on this exciting project, please get in touch at MUSVIB
Bands, labels, publishers, festivals, venues, engineers, touring sound hire companies
We invite everyone in the music industry to get behind this technology: 1. Tours and engineers who will allow us to take multiple audio feeds from a FOH or monitor mixer to drive the vibrotactile equipment. 2. Labels and artists who accept that their material will not be bootlegged as a result of giving access to selected raw audio feeds. 3. Venues who will set aside a space for the kit 4. Ticket agents who allow the kit to be bookable in the same way that a wheelchair space is bookable. 5. Touring hire companies who will purchase vibrotactile equipment for hire and send it out on tours in the same way that speakers are sent out. 6. Sound designers and engineers who will specify vibrotactile technology as part of a tour. 7. Labels and publishers who will commit to developing and supporting new multichannel ‘accessible’ music formats so that this technology can find its way into the home.
If you’re interested in working with us on this exciting project, please get in touch at MUSVIB