Over the past year, I have been exploring my relationship with sound and hearing as part of my Develop Your Creative Practice project kindly supported by the Arts Council England. It has been a wonderful experience and it has encouraged me to consider how our other senses interpret sound. Especially after speaking to Dame Evelyn Glennie who spoke about “Feeling Sound”. This thought sparked me to consider what role vibrations play in a person’s enjoyment of “hearing” music. I wanted to know whether Haptic Technology (a tactile feedback technology that uses the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user – think of a vibrating game controller) could be used in live performance to give a physical sensation of sound. I previously obtained a WOOJER Vest Edge as a donation from the brand towards my research. I first contacted Woojer to collaborate as I was interested to see whether this jacket, which provides 360 degrees of sensory immersion by delivering vibrations across the upper half of your body in reaction to music, would enable an audience to hear live music differently. A way that could bridge the gap between silence and stimulation. The product was originally designed as a companion to improve one’s enjoyment of Gaming, Movies, Pre-Recorded Music, and Virtual Reality.
At first, I explored the Woojer Vest Edge’s capabilities with the consideration that the audience could wear a vest to enhance their experience of the live performance. However, after observing my target audience, children, in classroom activity and as audience members during the primary school tour with Scottish Opera, I wondered whether this style of audience participation would be too overwhelming. I also considered – how on earth would I find the funding to source 30 jackets so that a full classroom could have the same experience. Deep pockets anyone? Only joking.
This led me to explore my own experiences whilst wearing the jacket. I observed my reactions whilst listening to pre-recorded music played via Bluetooth on my phone and then live music played on an electric keyboard, a silent-function upright piano, and sung by my voice. It was interesting to see which parts of the vest reacted and the intensity of the vibrations in reaction to different sources of music. I was able to find a way to connect the jacket to all these different instruments without wires allowing me to move freely. This got me thinking! What would happen if this jacket could be used onstage by a deaf actor to help improve the connectivity between the artists whilst the music was being performed. I was able to put this Haptic Technology into practice whilst working with Zoë McWhinney, a fantastic actress who happens to be profoundly deaf and the results were very exciting. When Zoe wore the Woojer Vest Edge, she was able to experience in real-time intricate nuances in the music, such as cuckoo calls imitated in the piano accompaniment and respond with an appropriate physical gesture in unison. Although it is slightly bulky to wear, the ability to connect wirelessly without impeding the time lag was quite successful. This excited my director’s brain, and we went on to discover together how we could use this vest as a powerful rehearsal tool. I can’t wait to explore this fascinating technology further and test the limits of its creative potential. Do you know of any companies that use this technology in interesting ways? I am interested to find someone who develops a haptic technology mat, which the children could sit on.
If you would like to read more about the product or experience a similar sensation yourself. Here is their website for more information. https://www.woojer.com/pages/vest
I would also like to take a moment to wish my wonderful Mum a very happy Mother’s Day. I am fortunate to have such a caring and thoughtful Mum, who has always supported my brothers and me to pursue our dreams and a life of happiness. It has been a fantastic weekend celebrating with you in Cheshire, especially with the sun shining in full force to ensure bright skies.