When he first presented Vi to a class, Hadjichristou didn’t expect the students to enjoy the device. He was surprised not only by the overwhelmingly positive response, but by the different ways kids interacted with it. Some children with autism stared at it for 30 minutes straight. Despite being targeted towards seven-to-nine year olds, some of the older students took the dome off and placed other materials inside as an experiment. Others connected it to an iPod to see what would happen. If engagement is a hallmark of success, then Vi passed with flying colors.
Hadjichristou didn’t initially set out to create a design for the deaf. “I DJ and I have a radio show and I love music,” he says. “The project was initially about exploring alternative ways in which we can experience music.” His research lead him to studies about how the brain can rewire itself to process sound through vibrations, and also about how no two hearing-impaired individuals perceive sound the same way.
At the Donaldson’s School in Linlithgow, Scotland, Hadjichristou saw a resonance board, a therapy tool for children. It’s essentially a large wood box through which music is piped. Children lie on top of it to “feel” the vibrations. Hadjichristou noticed that the kids became more engaged and enthusiastic about it when they could choose the music themselves. “By giving them control, they understood what they felt,” Hadjichristou says. “That was the ‘Eureka’ point in the project. I wanted to redesign it the board into a playable, more practical, portable invention.”
Vi consists of modular Korg synthesizers and a speaker. Nigel Stanford‘s experiments with cymatics—the study of visible sound vibrations—informed how Vi could potentially communicate sound through vision. Essentially, matter can reflect sound waves. Hadjichristou designed the wood housing to be cylindrical so that users feel inclined to wrap their hands around it. Loose ball bearings sit on top of the speaker and bounce around in the glass dome when the speaker is going.
Hadjichristou created custom, 3-D printed coverings for the synthesizers, which snap together and combine to produce different sounds. Each shape visually describes the module’s action. For example one component is called a delay so the casing shows bubbles becoming progressively larger.
“Because it was for kids, there had to be an element of playfulness,” Hadjichristou says. “The modules look like Legos. You can’t just put these components in a box, there has to be meaning behind them. They translate what each component does visually as opposed to explaining it in a paragraph—it’s a simple intuitive design that tells a kid what it does.”
Post-graduation, Hadjichristou hopes to refine Vi and continue his experiments. “There’s so much more to music than just sound,” he says.