Most of us assume deaf people can’t register sound, let alone enjoyRachmaninoff. Wrong. A conceptual device from German designer FrederikPodzuweit taps into the deaf’s ability to feel music.
Musicfor Deaf People is a collar that converts auditory input into vibrations, triggering the same sound-processing brain regions in those with full hearing. So instead of listening through your ears,you effectively listen through your skin. The collar hasa special membrane substance, which responds to electricity, dispatching the vibrations of whatever you’replaying–be it Sinatra or Sepultura–to your neck, shoulders, andcollarbone. Adjustable, it fits snugly around your neck so you could theoretically wear it jogging or at the gym–never mind thatit looks like something straight out of a Stormtrooper’s closet. (Nerdsprobably think that’s a good thing.)
To the uninitiated, itmight seem like a nonstarter, a pointless gadget resigned to the annalsof air-conditioned T-shirtsand ShamWow! Why woulddeaf people want to “hear” music? The answer, of course, is for thesame reason everyone else does: Music is one of life’s enduringpleasures.
There’s a lot of fascinating research into howdeaf people experience music. Researchers at Ryerson University designed a chairthat transmits musical vibrations along the back, turning sound into a sort of multi-sensorycheesecake. One person described it like this: “The first time I usedthe chair, I was blown away by the amount of information I could getabout music from the vibrations. For the first time in my life, I couldfeel sad or happy because of how the music vibrations felt on my skin.I never felt those kinds of feelings before when music was played.”
It’s even possible, in certain cases, that deaf people experience music more powerfully because they can’t hear; as Oliver Sacks tells it in Musicophilia, theauditory cortex might become extra-sensitive when hearing slips.Beethoven, you’ll recall, was completely deaf when he composed hisdazzling Symphony No. 9.
The main drawback we see in Music forDeaf People is that the collar seems terribly uncomfortable. On hotdays, a big hunk of plastic is the last thing you want around yourneck. Would the concept work just as well around your wrist or yourbicep? If anyone has any ideas, we’re all, um, ears.