They say music makes you feel things like nothing else can. For deaf people, that’s quite literal.
For many people with hearing difficulties, music is experienced differently, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it just as much as anyone else. Rather than ‘hearing’ music, deaf people feel sound vibrations, which scientists say send the same signal to the brain as noise does for non-deaf people, meaning the sensations deaf people have when listening to music are actually quite similar.
One company is looking to help more people experience music this way, by creating a vibrating suit to allow deaf people to feel music through their skin.
California-based Not Impossible Labs have been working on the suit, which consists of a wireless, battery-powered body harness with ankle and wrist straps, since 2016. The suit works by translating audio into vibrating pulses that are then transmitted to 24 contact points on the suit.
For Chase Burton, the suit has revolutionised the way he experiences music.
The deaf filmmaker says he has been listening to music through vibrations from a young age, telling CNN:
When I was a kid, I’d lie on the floor above our garage so I could feel the vibrations from my brother’s band rocking out below my body.
That was one of the first times I began building a relationship with music.
Burton has been trialling Not Impossible Lab’s tech for four years, and explained to CNN how it feels to listen to music through the suit.
The sound hits different parts of your body,
Maybe it will strike me down in my ankles first. And then I’ll start to feel the vibrations in my back. And then I’ll feel some pulsations in my wrist.
The company says it is currently working on improving the suit’s technology, but hopes it will be ready to go on the market soon. And while the product could be a game changer for deaf music lovers, they say it could also be used by non-deaf people to further enhance their experience of live music.
Burton, a filmmaker who has campaigned to make the movie industry more inclusive for deaf people, believes that the suits could be used to enhance emotions for everyone.
I see the tech as a real opportunity to help people empathize better with the idea that music or movies doesn’t always need to be enjoyed through the ears.
Eventually the suit could even be incorporated into live sports, video games, and even theme parks to create fully immersive experiences.
So if we ever get to get to live concerts again, we’ll catch these suits in the pit.
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