The good vibrations helping the deaf experience music

A slew of new music-listening devices for the deaf are on offer.

30 November 2014


Music is a force so potent, even those who cannot hear can appreciate it. Sound, after all, can be thought of as “touch at a distance,” as perceptual neuroscientist Diana Deutsch of the University of California in San Diego puts it. By feeling the vibration of air molecules, deaf people can experience music — particularly bass-heavy genres. “People who come to my nights in Bristol are always surprised — ‘the promoter is deaf?'” says events producer Jacob Casselden, who is fully deaf. This October, he spearheaded Sencity in London, a rave that brings the deaf and the hearing together through a mutual appreciation of music. To cater for this, a slew of new music-listening devices for the deaf are on offer.

For just $10 (£6), this small, sticky device can “turn anything into a speaker”: furniture, cardboard boxes — even your finger. “I also find it works quite well placed on my collarbone or located just behind my ear,” says Casselden.

Inspired by the structure of the inner ear, this converts musical notes into tactile vibrations — high pitches at the top of the chair, bass notes at the feet. Several hundred have been made, custom-built for each patron.

Sense Floor
Composed of 32 vibrating square panels, Sencity’s “Sense Floor” has travelled the world over. Vibrating engines transduce musical notes into shuddering pulsations. Though designed for the deaf, it can enhance acoustic sensations for anyone.

Inventor James Talbot wanted to create headphones that hearing people can use while running or cycling. The result: Headbones, which transmit music to the inner ear via gentle vibrations on the temporal bone of the skull.