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QMUL PhD student exhibits tactile music chair for deaf people

Robert Jack, a PhD student on the Media and Arts Technology programme at QMUL took his audio tactile furniture to the Incloodu Deaf Arts Festival.

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Visitors to the Incloodu Festival at the Richmix in Shoreditch, London, close to QMUL’s Mile End campus have had a chance to try out Robert Jack’s suite of furniture which translates music into vibrations that are felt through the surface of the skin rather than being broadcast as sounds.

As part of his study Robert completed a placement at Union Chapel, which among other functions has been voted London’s best live music venue by readers of Time Out. While there he worked on a project focused on the experience of music without hearing, and on how Deaf experience of music could be improved. In consultation with Incloodu and Deaf architect Martin Glover who specifically develops interiors for the deaf and hard-of-hearing he developed an audio tactile chair.

Instead of simply amplifying the bass frequencies of the music, Robert’s chair identifies some of the musically important features of the music and renders them as vibrations made by state-of-the-art tactile devices in the body of the chair.

Music that is sent into the chair is split into frequency bands from high to low – these are then used to create control signals that are tailored to how we sense vibrations through the skin. These signals drive actuators in the seat and back, while the arms of the chair provide the fingertips with an impression of the timbre of the music. The chair was built using custom actuators designed at QMUL alongside cutting-edge tactile subwoofer technology provided by music technology start-up Subpac.

The chair spent a week at the Incloodu Festival, a unique celebration of comedy, theatre, dance, visual arts, photography and film, organised by deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Incloodu is probably the only arts festival in the UK where sign language is as common as speech making it the perfect place to show off the chair.

“It’s great having such a leading festival so close to the university, it means that collaborations like this can happen easily. The response at the festival was good with people giving us lots of feedback on how we can improve them in the future.” Long term Robert hopes that the project can help strengthen links between the Deaf community and those researching digital art and technologies.

More Information

  • Find out more about QMUL's Media and Arts Technology interdisciplinary PhD and masters programmes on the MAT website

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