SignKid is a London-based writer, producer and signsong rapper who is Deaf.

His musical influences range from Public Enemy, Tupac and Biggie Smalls to Chance the Rapper.

SignKid hasn’t let being Deaf get in the way of creating music and he produces his own beats and regularly performs live. He released his debut EP ‘Music is the Message’ in 2017 and in the same year won an award from the MOBO / HelpMusicians fund to help further his musical career.

In March ’18, we invited SignKid to try out the Musical Vibrations vibrotactile equipment out to see if it might help him with music production and live performance.

How does SignKid make music?

SignKid has tried other vibrotactile products such as the Subpac and Wowee speaker but didn’t get on wth them. He prefers to use a lot of sub-bass in his music as this makes it easier for him to hear it. Wowee speakers were not best suited to this due to their size and they eventually broke. He has also experimented with a Subpac vest but found it uncomfortable and disconcerting to use.

Production:

Like most electronic music producers, SignKid uses a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) as his main production tool, preferring to use Apple Logic. He often connects his hearing aid directly to his MacBook.

Interestingly, SignKid has found that creating tracks with a tempo of around 90 bpm allows his internal pulse to keep him in time with his music when performing live.

As well as creating his own beats, SignKid writes his own rap lyrics. These are spoken by hearing friends on his recordings and in live performances.

Rehearsal:

For SignKid, the visual nature of a digital audio workstation functions as a valuable aid in rehearsal. He constantly reviews the relationship between the playhead and the audio and MIDI regions to maintain a sense of where he is in the track and also keeps a close eye on the flashing LED metronome.

He rehearses extensively with this setup so that he does not need to rely on these visual cues when he is performing live.

Performance:

SignKid cannot always hear well with his hearing aid in the noisy environment of a club, although the ‘loop’ function can help. Although he rehearses with Logic as a visual aid, he does not use it in performance as it would affect his eye contact with the audience and his ability to move around the stage. So, in order to ensure that he is signing in time with his beats during performances, SignKid relies on two things: extensive rehearsal and the fact that he has created his music with a constant speed of 90 bpm, relying on what he can feel of the sub bass to keep him in time with the beat.

Getting to know the vibrotactile equipment

To allow SignKid to get to know the vibrotactile equipment, we first asked him to jam along on a keyboard to an existing multi-track recording. Four different signals (bass guitar, guitar, kick drum and snare drum) from a multi-track recording were sent to his left heel, right heel, left forefoot and right forefoot. His first comment was: “I like this….I could use this”.

Picture shows a man seated at a table, playing a keyboard. His feet are bare and are placed on four vibrotactile shakers. TO his immediate left and right are two vibrotactile hand shakers.
Deaf producer and signrapper SignKid using vibrotactile feedback to play keyboards along with an existing recording.

Signrapping rehearsal using vibrotactile feedback alone

For this session, SignKid switched off his hearing aid and, using vibrotactile feedback alone, signrapped along to a recording of ‘Music is the Message’.

Our BSL interpreter confirmed that SignKid was signing exactly in time with the spoken rap (which is delivered by another performer) despite not being able to hear it.

To obtain suitable vibrotactile cues we soloed the main beat and the bass line from the original audio/MIDI sequence within the Apple Logic DAW software.

We used two vibrotactile foot shakers for this part of the session as we were using an audio interface with two outputs. (M Audio MobilePre). In a full ‘accessible production’ setup, a 4-output audio interface and 4 foot shakers could be used, allowing more tracks to be presented as vibrotactile feedback.

Picture shows man seated at a table. He is signrapping along to a music track. His feet are bare and are placed upon four vibrotactile shakers
Signrapping to ‘Music is the Message’
Picture shows man seated at a table. He is signrapping along to a music track. His feet are bare and are placed upon four vibrotactile shakers
‘Music’
‘Equality’

Feedback

“I could use this. It’s helpful”

“I just want to keep playing with it!”

I ALWAYS wear trainers but performing barefoot is something I would consider if I could use this technology”.

The Future

We are planning to loan some vibrotactile shakers to SignKid to use when he is writing and producing music.

If the technology proves useful we will assist him, and other musicians who are working in similar ways, in obtaining their own equipment by providing technical information, training and support for charitable funding applications.

Follow SignKid

SignKid is performing at Fabric in London on 21st June 2018  www.residentadvisor.net/events/1098370 and DeafRave in London on Saturday 8th Sepetmber 2018 www.instagram.com/p/BhwGm5xg71c/

Follow SignKid on Twitter and Instagram