Wearables are redefining music by introducing physical sensations.
Wearable technology creators are inventing new ways to experience and understand music, allowing users to physically feel sound through vibrating motors embedded in fabric. New releases are mapping sound onto the body to replicate the visceral feeling of music pulsing at nightclubs or live concerts, or to immerse the user in a heightened level of experience.
SubPac is a wearable line of vests by startup StudioFeed that pumps bass frequencies through users’ bodies as they listen to music. Its bone-conduction technology aims to replicate the experience of listening to live music.
The technology got a PR bump this year when electronic music producer Timbaland joined as partner and brand ambassador. “You’re going to change the word listen to feel,” Timbaland told TechCrunch. “It’s about whole body, completing the experience.”
The SubPac also has the potential to change how musicians and producers create music, CEO John Alexiou explained to Vice. Beyond music, the SubPac is being used to improve meditation in a sound-healing workshop series called the Yoga of Bass.
Tactile sound also has implications for VR gaming, opening up the possibility of adding a physical dimension to intensify the VR experience. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, creator of the video game Rez, created a custom haptic body suit for the new Rez Infinite VR video game. Rez Infinite combines music, visuals and a first-person shooter game. The so-called “synesthesia suit” uses vibrations to enhance the music, adding yet another layer to the multimedia experience.
Immersive sonic experiences are also popping up at music festivals. Dave & Gabe’s Hyper Thread experience for The Lab at Panorama explored the intersection of music and movement. Visitors to the installation were able to create sounds in real time by swinging in silk cocoons, altering the music and LED patterns as they interacted with the environment.
Products designed for the hearing impaired are also at the cutting edge of haptic technology. CuteCircuit’s Sound Shirt is a prototype that maps a live orchestra across the wearer’s body. It reproduces the frequencies of specific instruments through vibrations, activating the lower stomach for deep bass notes and the neck and arms for light violin sounds. “As they’re watching the orchestra, they feel soundwaves in specific areas of the body, and within a few minutes understand there is a correlation,” CEO Ryan Genz explained to Fortune.
A deaf-friendly accessory called Vibeat also translates music into vibrations, allowing deaf wearers to feel music through an alternate sensory system. Hearing users can also listen in through connecting headphones. Although still a prototype, its sleek design points toward a more stylish option for the future of vibrating wearables.