Innovative technology helps young people with sensory impairments make music

A young person plays a guitar that's connected to a bottle spinning on a turntable

Six young people with sensory impairments and complex communication needs are making music through a series of Sense Arts workshops. The workshops are part of a project called ‘Music Is A Vibration’, and are being led by a musician and an artist who use innovative audiovisual technology to overcome communication barriers.

As Arts and Wellbeing coordinator for Sense, I’ve been really excited to see and hear musical compositions being developed by people with sensory impairments and complex communication needs. This is being made possible with technology that allows participants to explore the physical world through sound and vibrations.

With the support of musician Tom Peel, and artist Justin Wiggan, young people are fulfilling their creative potential using software to translate drawings and vibrations into ‘sonic signatures’ and musical works that are physically experienced through innovative vibrating backpacks made by ‘SubPac’.

Building relationships

During the early stages of the A young man sits at a table with a ball of foil on string and a wine glass to make percussive soundsproject, the main objective of the sessions was for Tom and Justin to grow relationships with the participants through games and activities. These activities helped them get to know and understand the communication methods and musical interests within the group.

The  games and activities also supported the young participants to become familiar with the instruments and technology, as well as the different spaces the workshop would take place in.

Innovative technology overcomes communication barriers

Initially, the young people taking part were introduced to different technology that could translate visual marks into sounds. Using tablets with ‘noise graffiti’ software, patterns were drawn and transformed into frequencies.

In other sessions, participants spoke their names into microphones. The recordings of their voices were then manipulated by them using a ‘digital spinner’ which changed the pitch in a fun and creative way.

A girl wearing headphones holding a recording device and wearing a SubPac backpack that vibrates with the sounds recorded

From these early workshops, the patterns drawn on tablets were transformed into ‘sonic signatures’ that were then transferred into SubPac backpacks which, when worn, allowed the participants to feel their own sounds through low level vibrations on their body made by the packs.

The ‘sonic tags’ are also now on display at Sense’s TouchBase Pears multipurpose venue in Birmingham, where members of the community can experience the sounds created in the workshop.

The young people have really shown an eagerness to learn more, and are developing a new level of independence as they continue to explore music and prepare for a final exhibition at TouchBase Pears and mac Birmingham on 18-20 May.

Sensory art opens the doors to new experiences for disabled people


Author: Sunney Sharma

Sunney Sharma is Arts and Wellbeing Manager at Sense.

2 thoughts on “Innovative technology helps young people with sensory impairments make music”

  1. This is awesome! I’m a Sensory Poetry Educator & I’ve just graduated from Goldsmiths (MA Creative Writing & Education) and also the Spoken Word Education Program (Mentor Jacob Sam La-Rose). I developed a new sensory practice drawing on synaesthesia to create a metaphorical sense of colour for visually impaired students, by eating different coloured foods and exploring textural sensation, smell & taste to create colour metaphors and spoken word recordings. Essentially “Eating Colour”. One of the star student-poets said…”I don’t have to see the colour I can eat the colour”.

    When are the next music workshops? I also work with music to create the poems & I’d love to get involved and explore your brilliant project!
    Amy Neilson Smith MA
    Sensory Poetry Educator
    Goldsmiths College
    Creative Consultant Open Senses Festival ( Stephanie Singer/ BitterSuite)
    Creative Collaborator Westminister University, MA Embodied Practice (Senior Lecturer Tereza Stehlikova)

    1. Hello Amy – thank you so much for your nice comment. Your work sounds really interesting and it seems like there could be a lot of cross overs. I see that you have worked with Steph Singer – we are also collaborating with her on another project – Sensibility. Perhaps we can exchange email and arrange a time to speak? We have a lot sensory activities going on up here in Birmingham so there are many ways you could get involved.
      BTW – your name does seem familiar, have you been in contact with Kara Jarrold? I remember a conversation with her about a similar project and I wonder if it was you. Sorry if I have got my wires crossed, just thought I would see.
      Thanks so much,
      Steph Tyrrell
      National Arts Manager @ sense

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