The main concept behind this object is to create new ways of experiencing music and sounds through sight and touch. The transmission of low frequency vibrations to surfaces and objects that are responsive to users and to music, along with the object’s ability to connect with one another, create an environment that is fully immersive. Thus, the context and environment in which this object might exist can vary from installation rooms, therapeutic centres, people’s homes, movie theaters, and any other place that allows for a comfortable music and sound appreciation environment; however, for this project we have decided that the object will exist in a private live-music setting.
Description of the object at work:
The most appropriate environment for Taction would be in an isolated room or an area with low sound and light noise. In this hypothetical room, lets call it the Holodeck, there will two musicians (e.i. a vocalist and a guitarist), and a series of cushioned objects and comfortable surfaces. The initial state of the room’s environment will be calm and quiet, in order to allow the participant(s) to feel comfortable and relaxed.
The participants would then be prompted to pick up one or more of the cushion-like objects and place them around and on their bodies. Hugging this cushions and placing them under their head (as a regular sleeping pillow), or on their backs, if they are sitting down, will be highly encouraged.
Once the participants are comfortable, the interaction begins. Musicians will start playing their instruments and transmitting vibrations to the participants who are in contact with the responsive surfaces and objects. Since the vibration of these objects is responsive to music, the musicians are able to guide the sensory experience of the participant with the frequency and amplitude of the sound they are producing. As a feedback system, the objects are also designed to respond to the participant. For example, when the participant squeezes one of these objects or moves it around during the performance, the object responds by changing its colour. When one object reacts to the participant it communicates this reaction to the other objects which then assimilate the initial object’s reaction. This way the performers can see how the person is reacting to the music and to the vibrations, by looking at the colours emitted by the objects the artists can decide how to guide the interaction.
While the tendency would be to only create interactions that are soothing and relaxing, we do not want to limit the tool to these types of experiences. Perhaps musicians decide that at some point they want to create a tense or stressful atmosphere and start playing faster and or louder; it is also possible that the participant and the musicians agree on creating a sort of narrative or progression, in which the music will alternate between different kinds of sounds through distortion, delays and other sound modulations, and guide the participant through a garden of diverse experiences and emotions.
Despite our intentions to not limit ourselves to creating a tool for relaxation or anything along this path, much of the research that we have conducted has led us to a lot of evidence regarding the power of low frequency vibrations in therapeutic contexts (both physical and psychological). According to most of these studies (see sources 1 – 3 below), low frequency vibrations between the range of 20 to 140Hz are considered to ‘be therapeutic’, meaning that when in contact with these vibrations over certain periods of time and in certain zones of the body, an array of healing effects may be produced, such as: increased bone density, lower blood pressure, lowering risk of heart attack, and accelerating tissue and bone recovery among others. Because of these very important applications of these type of technologies, we are not eliminating this aspect of the object from the design process, and will be looking to develop the functionality and overall design in a way that is inclusive of these different possibilities.
Object-Human Relationship. Social and Cultural Implications
One of our most immediate goals with this object is to challenge the current state of media production/consumption, which lives mainly within the visual and auditory fields. By creating a tactile and more immersive experience, we intend to bring participants back to their bodies, to feeling as opposed to simply watching or listening. Designing a physical interaction between the participant and the multiple objects and surfaces in the room allows for a very intimate relationship to be fostered, not only between object and human, but also between human and performers through objects and vibrations (as well as light and sound). This intimacy might step on the boundaries that define the line between immersiveness and invasiveness. This physical invasion may serve as a door to open up conversations about invasion of privacy on certain media platforms, which in contrast to this object is rarely physical or consensual.
Another crucial aspect of this object is the fact that despite having a feedback system with light, the object it is not controlled by the participant. In this regards, being a semi-passive member in such an immersive environment places the participant in a state of surrender, in which the only thing that one can do is to experience the events that unfold. This concept of surrendering is an important practice in many spiritual traditions, and is often understood as ‘living in the now’ or ‘accepting what is’. This again, has the possibility of creating tensions, especially in our society and at a time in history where we are constantly attempting to control every aspect of our lives. Thus, this object has the potential of putting the users in a place of reflection regarding the way in which they relate with their environment, technologies and other humans, and the impulsive disposition to want to control everything around us.
Besides possessing a therapeutical effect, this object can be empowering to both participants and performers by creating new forms of expression and interaction. Many would argue that the power of experiencing music lies in its ability to trigger new and old emotions, memories and ideas; however, others might argue that music is powerful not only because of its effects on a specific individual, but because throughout centuries it has been a powerful form of communication between performer and listener, allowing for narratives and culture to expand through it. Therefore, Taction empowers musicians by giving them access to the tactile senses of their audiences, opening new and compelling channels of communication. On the other side, listeners are empowered by the ability to communicate back to the musicians through light, and at the same time allow themselves letting go of the desired to control and experience the interaction.
From the beginning of the project one of our main goals has been to explore new ways of interacting with sound. This is why a major focus of the project is placed in transforming musical frequencies into vibrations. With this simple idea we are trying to say “we have more than 2 senses”, as a way to resist the reduction of stimuli to the auditory and visual sphere. Furthermore, equally important is the interaction between the object-to-object as a way to create an environment that is reactive to its users. In this case, we have a multi-dimensional interactive piece, in which the state of the object is affected by both musicians (with vibrations) and participants (with lights), and also by the other objects. The meaning behind such a complex network of interaction is to also challenge traditional forms of interactivity, in which the user is in full control of the experience. Lastly, we felt it was important to navigate how alternative forms of communication could allow for a deeper connection not only with music but between musicians and audiences. As performing musicians, our aim is to transmit emotions and tell stories with our instruments, and while this medium is often enough to accomplish this, we believe that experimentation with new mediums can lead to new meanings. If a sound or a smell can trigger a memory or a deep emotion, can vibrations in different parts of our body do that too?