by Harrison Tan
Inspired by an intimate whisper not just heard but felt, resonance explores how we might experience the spatial dimension of sound through touch. It takes the form of a wooden bead necklace holding three vibration motors nested between each pair of gold spacers. It listens to commands via Bluetooth that translates into various positioned haptic patterns on the back of the wearer’s neck.
Much like how a tap on the shoulder conveys not just a request for attention but also a direction to turn to, this haptic positioning is key when communicating the directionality of perceived sound for sensory substitution of sound through touch. Presence of sound expands situational awareness while directionality of sound extends spatial awareness – together they afford spatial situational awareness. The design rationale for focusing on sounds coming from behind is that humans can only see what is in front of them and therefore rely predominantly on their hearing to be aware of what’s happening behind them.
This project seeks to remedy some of the dangers and difficulties that arise when sound in the environment goes unheard – whether it be from deafness, hearing impairment, or situational limitations like wearing headphones. When the public soundscape is inaccessible, everything from warnings to look out, requests for attention, to cries for help will not be perceived. Research into the deaf culture and headphone culture revealed how often this results in situations ranging from the embarrassing – inadvertently blocking an aisle as requests to pass are seemingly ignored – to the life-threatening – stepping off the curb not sensing the ringing bike bells ringing or the honking of car horns. In the spirit of inclusive design, resonance imagines how sensory substitution could make the public soundscape more accessible.