Musical Vibrations is a new project from the Acoustics Research Unit at the University of Liverpool. The Musical Vibrations equipment converts musical sounds that are heard, into musical vibrations which are felt through the skin as vibrotactile feedback. It’s an assistive technology which allows what has been described as “hearing through the skin”.
The project builds on previous research into the tactile perception of music by D/deaf musicians which was inspired by Dame Evelyn Glennie, the highly-renowned solo percussionist who is classified as profoundly deaf with residual hearing at high amplification.
How exactly do you turn sound into vibration?
The technology that underpins Musical Vibrations is known as vibrotactile technology. Vibrotactile shakers, which are electrodynamic transducers designed for efficient and precise reproduction of vibration, turn sounds into vibration. They can be thought of as highly inefficient loudspeakers and there is a small amount of residual ‘sound’ generated that is audible to a hearing person.
There are two types of shaker:
- Foot shakers (one for the heel and one for the forefoot), which allow instrumentalists to keep their hands free. The shakers are not designed to take the weight of a person so a certain amount of care must be taken!
- Hand shakers, which can be used by vocal performers
Examples of use
The vibration signal sent to a single shaker will usually be from one instrument, or an electronic timing device such as a metronome or click track.
- Using both feet, one person could perceive the sound from a bass guitar on the left heel, their own instrument on the left forefoot, snare drum on the right heel and kick drum on the right forefoot.
- Using both hands, a singer could perceive the sound from both a keyboard accompaniment and another singer.
Thus D/deaf and hearing musicians can perform together without relying exclusively on visual cues.
The musician-ready system
We’ve created a simple-to-use vibrotactile system which is now available on a loan basis (free of charge) for organisations working with D/deaf people to try out. We’re looking for feedback on what works and what our next steps should be.