It’s easy to think of hearing impairment and musical creation as being mutually exclusive, similar to trying to paint if you’re blind. But, a better analogy would be sculpting when you’re blind, because those with hearing impairments can still feel the music. When Beethoven’s hearing started to deteriorate, he began touching a pencil to his piano to feel the vibrations and continue composing. Now, South Korean maker Jaewon “J. One” Choi is bringing that same principle into the digital age with his synesthiser project.
Synethiser makes it possible to create music that you can’t hear well — or even at all. It accomplishes that by providing a means of generating sounds while simultaneously giving the composer the ability to feel what those sounds are. When someone with good hearing plays an instrument, that sense works in concert with their hands naturally. J. One’s synethiser does the same thing, but replaces hearing with touch.
The device provides touch feedback through a round plate via a transducer, which receives output from a Raspberry Pi synthesizer. Composers can rotate the plate to change the frequency of the synthesizer wave, and push on it to modify the amplitude and modulation. When that input is processed in real time and output as vibrations, a hearing-impaired musician can feel the music as they’re creating it. The benefits are obvious, and it gives people with hearing impairment a means of artistic expression that they might have thought wasn’t possible.