As music fans, we often take for granted how we’re able to experience sonic art forms in their entirety. For instance, people who are deaf may never know what it’s like to connect with others at a concert, while dancing to different melodies and beats. But wearable technology is creating new ways for people to interact with their environment and with each other. Enter CuteCircuit, a wearable tech company combining high fashion with state-of-the-art technology to bridge the gaps in human interaction.
Beyond their more aesthetic creations, CuteCircuit’s latest project is a haptic shirt called Soundshirt. It’s a way for hearing-impaired people to physically experience music. It works by using haptic devices — devices that mimic touch and motion — built into the fabric of the shirt that translate sound waves into physical vibrations.
Specific areas on the clothing produce vibrations based on what instrument is being played. For example, when listening to a live orchestra, violin notes are sent as mild vibrations across the wearer’s arms, while drums are felt as deep vibrations across the wearer’s back. In the end, Soundshirt is able to produce a symphony of vibrations across a wearer’s torso. Even for those who aren’t deaf, this sounds like a super fun way to experience music!
At the moment, CuteCircuit is mainly selling the Soundshirt for orchestras, museums, and software developers. Commercial versions are currently in preorder status. Additionally, the technology requires special software and hardware arrangements to work, so it might be a while before these can be worn at just any concert. Watch CuteCircuit’s promotional video below to see how the Soundshirt works.
Music for all to enjoy
The artists behind CuteCircuit definitely aren’t the only ones helping people with impairments experience art to its fullest. Dance Music NW put the spotlight on a Portland-native artist creating innovative ways for the hearing-impaired to enjoy the same music we all love. Myles de Bastion is a deaf musician who encodes and translates sound into LED lights. He showcased his inventions at Oregon’s What The Festival in 2016.
Going deeper down the wearable tech rabbit hole, a company called AIAIAI invented a system called Real Booty Music. As the name suggests, this is a less practical, yet highly entertaining attempt at translating twerk dancing into drum beats.
This “body-as-MIDI” concept is similar to English musician Imogen Heap’s famous Mi.Mu gloves. Her gloves use hand gestures to change different musical elements, allowing for unique live performances.
These are just a few examples of the many, many ways creative people are using technology to change the way we interact with music. It’ll be exciting to see what other surprising inventions are on the horizon!
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