SOUND IS TOUCH
Dr. Daniel Oore (International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation & Memorial University of Newfoundland) commissioned by CNMN (https://www.newmusicnetwork.ca/projects/sound-is-touch/)
Listening, touching, feeling and sounding activities using your voice, hands, whole body, instruments, or speakers (e.g. on phone, computer, earphones). These sound activities are for people of all —including hearing and non-hearing— abilities.
Note: To help prevent germ transmission, wash and/or disinfect your hands, other body parts, and objects used before, in between, and after the activities described here!
Your music touched me —I was moved.
The metaphors we use reveal our lived experience: we feel sound all over our bodies! Feel the music… feel the bass!
Our universe is filled with ongoing motion, resulting in touch that transfers energy. The energy of this touch can cause more movement, such as vibrations. Vibrations are back and forth oscillations of matter that reverberate and travel as waves. When vibrations reach our bodies they touch and move us, our skin, bones, joints, blood vessels, and organs, like our ears.
Sound touches us, causing and also compelling us to move in different ways. This is powerful. Sound and music are intimate: they touch the entire body, outside and inside. Vibrations travel and touch us, from across distances. Everybody has sounds they want or don’t want to touch. Can you think of some?
LET’S TOUCH SOUND!
Sing a continuous sound (e.g. a vowel). Can you feel your mouth, neck, and other body parts vibrating? Continue singing the same sound and gently touch together your upper and lower lips. Then try touching together your upper and lower teeth —the front teeth and then the back. What changes do you feel?
Slowly shift back and forth between two sung sounds (e.g. two vowels like “ah-oo-ah-oo”). Can you feel what movements in your body cause the sound to change? Sing and hold the palm of your hand just in front of your mouth. What do you feel on your hand and face?
Now sing and use your hands to gently touch different areas of your body (e.g. your nose, lips, throat, back, or chest). How do vibrations of different sounds feel in different parts of your body? Gradually change the sound (e.g.: to a different vowel, consonant or sonorant, to a different octave, or to a different loudness). Do certain sounds feel distinct?
Explore touching sounds while your ears are plugged (or while wearing headphones that are playing white noise). How does this change your sensation of vibrations?
Explore vibrations with objects in your home: a musical instrument or a spoon tapping and sliding along a metal bowl or table. How do the vibrations of these different motions feel? Try gently dampening the vibrations of the bowl on different parts of your arm or foot. Fill the bowl with water and continue… can you see the vibrations rippling on the water? Sing different vowels into the bowl until you find one that really resonates! Make music by exploring the sensations of vibrations —try plugging your ears and also closing your eyes.
Sound is touch. When we hear sound, we are vibrating —moving— together with this sound. This is powerful.
Like the tiny parts inside the ear, a microphone contains thin and sensitive components that vibrate similarly to the sounds that touch it. The microphone’s vibrations are converted into variations of electrical energy which get transmitted to other devices and, eventually, back into vibrations of a speaker… at a concert or in your phone or computer. Explore the vibrations of speakers. Inflate a balloon and explore how its thin membrane vibrates with different sounds. What does your favourite music feel like to touch? Would you recognize it with your ears plugged?
Can you tell if someone you know is feeling sad, joyful, angry, or another emotion, by the sounds they make when they come home? Do you feel their vibe-rations?
Maybe your friend will explore vibration with you? Make sound together, perhaps taking turns carefully and gently touching agreed upon parts of each other’s bodies or musical instruments. Where do you feel motion and vibration when your friend plays a recorder or guitar? If you’re exploring through a phone or computer connection, take turns sounding and feeling the speaker vibrations against your bodies.
Discover which types of sounds your different body parts are sensitive to. What parts of your body feel more sensitive in distinguishing higher, mid, or lower-range frequencies (pitches), and between more and less intense vibrations? What vibrations compel you to move and dance?
When you hear a sound, notice and explore your sensations of vibrations and your instincts to move your body.
Let sound touch us!
FURTHER VARIATIONS & IDEAS:
How does touching a sound with your hand, alter the sound? Flicking the tongue while vocalizing or flicking the hand in front of the vocalizing mouth is an ancient technique and has an onomatopoeic term in English: ‘ululation’ (which is also used to refer to wailing). In fact, different languages seem to use comparable “l-l” sounds to describe this sound-flicking technique. Some theories suggest that the first part of the word “hallelu+ja” (Hebrew “praise/shout to + G-d”) originated from such praiseful, trilling ululation. Different religions describe God and God’s creative power as sound and vibration.
(Clean your phone!) Cup your hand around the phone speaker and then gently move your fingers and palm to change the resonance frequency. You can also do this with the speaker placed near your mouth and move your mouth as though you are saying “wow wow” (but without using your voice). You are changing the vowel shape of your mouth a bit like a “wah wah” mute on a brass instrument or electric pedal. Remember earlier we explored shifting back-and-forth between sounds, like “oo-ah-oo” —”wow”?!
Run your finger along different objects (e.g. a plastic container, a drinking glass, a wall, a table). Can you guess the vibratory quality of a surface by merely holding it, without moving your skin along its surface? Can you infer the textural rhythm of an object just by looking at it? Use a pencil and paper to draw imaginary shapes and textures (not objects), and give your page of drawings to a friend for them to create the sound of each texture (perhaps as you indicate the pressure and rate of motion with your hand). Guess which of your images your friend is sonifying! Adapt the “Eye Spy…” game: “I touch with my little finger something that feels like [make the sound of the texture with your mouth]!” (Cf. “Optacon”.)
Are mechano, thermo, photo, and chemo–reception each a form of touch?
Sing a sound and imagine your toes or other extremities vibrating or resonating with your voice. Do you feel something? How and why?
Microphones resonate with sounds that touch their sensitive components. Do other objects also “feel” each other’s vibrations and resonate together? Experiment with or watch videos of pendulum clocks or mechanical metronomes synchronizing when they are placed on a common surface. (Cf. “Entrainment or Mode Locking”.)
ABOUT THE SENSATION OF MECHANICAL VIBRATION:
“Mechanoreceptors” are distributed across our body to sense different qualities of touch, vibration, and pressure.
If a vibration oscillates regularly (“periodically” returning to the same condition at equal increments of time) between 20 to 20,000 Hz (cycles per second) and is intense (loud) enough, the ear fuses the separate oscillations into an experience of continuous pitched tone. The lowest note on a piano is 27.5 Hz, and a little below that, from 25 down to 20 Hz, pitches sound more wobbly and indistinct, and from 20 Hz down (known as “infrapitch”) to about 0.5 Hz (one cycle every two seconds), each oscillation is heard as a discrete click (a “pulse”) within a steadily repeating rhythm. Different oscillations can also be experienced as vibration and pressure changes by mechanoreceptors all over our body. And even frequencies that we can’t feel as distinct vibration or pressure changes, may still affect our bodies.
RELATED TERMS & RESOURCES TO EXPLORE (HYPERLINKED)
Essentic and Sentic Forms (See Clynes, in book & document list below)
Vestibular Self-Motion (See Bharucha, in book & document list below)
Concept — Daniel Oore
Text — Daniel Oore
Narration — Daniel Oore
Video Demonstration — Jonathan Oore & Daniel Oore
Videography — Stacy Smith, Jonathan Oore, Daniel Oore
Video & Audio editing — Daniel Oore
Original Music & Soundscape — Daniel Oore
Consultants — Dr. Mordecai Oore, P. Eng (IMP Aerospace) & Dr. Jonathan Oore, MD (McGill University)
To help prevent germ transmission, wash and/or disinfect your hands, other body parts, and objects used before, in between, and after the activities described.
The demonstrations in this video have been sped up to allow a higher number of ideas to be presented in an entertaining manner. Trying these activities at such a fast paces is not recommended (and could even result in injury…). If you want to watch the activities slowly, select a slower playback speed in the YouTube video preferences.
BOOKS & DOCUMENTS WITH INFORMATION & IDEAS ABOUT SOUND, VIBRATION, TOUCH, AND HEARING
Ball, Philip. The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Bashwiner, David Michael. “Musical Emotion: Toward a Biologically Grounded Theory.” The University of Chicago, 2010.
Beament, James. How We Hear Music: The Relationship Between Music and the Hearing Mechanism. Boydell Press, 2003.
Berendt, Joachim-Ernst. Nada Brahma, the World Is Sound: Music and the Landscape of Consciousness. Destiny Books, 1987.
Berg, Jeremy M., John L. Tymoczko, and Lubert Stryer. “Hearing Depends on the Speedy Detection of Mechanical Stimuli.” Biochemistry. 5th Edition, 2002. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22542/.
Bharucha, Jamshed J., Meagan Curtis, and Kaivon Paroo. “Varieties of Musical Experience.” Cognition 100, no. 1 (May 2006): 131–72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2005.11.008.
Blauert, Jens, ed. Communication Acoustics. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2005.
Boomsliter, Paul, and Warren Creel. “The Long Pattern Hypothesis in Harmony and Hearing.” Journal of Music Theory 5, no. 1 (1961): 2. https://doi.org/10.2307/842868.
Braconnier, Deborah. “Woman Can Literally Feel the Noise.” Medical Xpress, May 30, 2011. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-05-woman-literally-noise.html.
Burrows, David L. Time and the Warm Body a Musical Perspective on the Construction of Time. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2007.
Cariani, Peter. “Temporal Codes, Timing Nets, and Music Perception.” Journal of New Music Research 30, no. 2 (2001): 107–135.
Changizi, M.A. Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man. Kindle edition. BenBella Books, 2011.
Clynes, Manfred. “Time-Forms, Nature’s Generators and Communicators of Emotion.” In Robot and Human Communication, 1992. Proceedings., IEEE International Workshop On, 18–31. IEEE, 1992. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=253908.
Clynes, Manfred, and Yehudi Menuhin. Sentics: The Touch of Emotions. Anchor Press Garden City, NY, 1977. http://senticcycles.org/home/sentics/articles/sentics.pdf.
Fraser, J. T. “The Art of the Audible ‘Now.’” Music Theory Spectrum 7 (April 1985): 181–84. https://doi.org/10.2307/745887.
Gaulon, C., C. Derec, T. Combriat, P. Marmottant, and F. Elias. “Sound and Vision: Visualization of Music with a Soap Film.” European Journal of Physics 38, no. 4 (July 1, 2017): 045804. https://doi.org/10.1088/1361-6404/aa7147. (https://www-liphy.univ-grenoble-alpes.fr/pagesperso/marmottant/Publications_files/Gaulon2017EJP.pdf)
Godwin, Joscelyn. Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: Mysticism in Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde. Simon and Schuster, 1987.
———. The Mystery of the Seven Vowels: In Theory and Practice. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Phanes Press, 1991.
Goldstein, E. Bruce, Glyn W. Humphreys, Margaret Shiffrar, and William A. Yost, eds. Blackwell Handbook of Sensation and Perception. Blackwell Handbooks of Experimental Psychology 1. Oxford, UK ; Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2005.
Handel, Stephen. Perceptual Coherence: Hearing and Seeing. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Hudspeth, A. J. “How Hearing Happens.” Neuron 19, no. 5 (1997): 947–950.
Hugill, Andrew. The Digital Musician. New York: Routledge, 2008.
Keidel, W. “The Sensory Detection of Vibrations.” In Foundations of Sensory Science, edited by W.W. Dawson and J.M. Enoch, 465–512. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1984.
Lundborg, Göran. The Hand and the Brain. London: Springer London, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4471-5334-4.
Mayr, Albert. “Sketches for a Low-Frequency Solfège.” Music Theory Spectrum 7 (April 1985): 107–13. https://doi.org/10.2307/745882.
Mazur, Joseph. The Motion Paradox the 2,500-Year-Old Puzzle Behind All the Mysteries of Time and Space. New York: Dutton, 2007.
Merchel, Sebastian, and M. Ercan Altinsoy. “Auditory-Tactile Experience of Music.” In Musical Haptics, edited by Stefano Papetti and Charalampos Saitis, 123–48. Springer Series on Touch and Haptic Systems. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-58316-7_7.
Nussbaum, Charles O. The Musical Representation: Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion. A Bradford Book. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2007.
Research Features. “Overlapping Senses: Hearing and Touch Share Circuits in the Brain,” April 5, 2018. https://researchfeatures.com/2018/04/05/hearing-and-touch-share-circuits-in-the-brain/.
Pareyón, Gabriel. On Musical Self-Similarity: Intersemiosis as Synecdoche and Analogy. Imatra; [Helsinki]: International Semiotics Institute ; Semiotic Society of Finland, 2011.
Parisi, David. Archaeologies of Touch: Interfacing with Haptics from Electricity to Computing. U of Minnesota Press, 2018.
Paterson, Mark. The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects, and Technologies. Oxford ; New York: Berg, 2007.
Piechowski, Michael M. “The Logical and the Empirical Form of Feeling.” Journal of Aesthetic Education 15, no. 1 (January 1981): 31. https://doi.org/10.2307/3332208.
Plomp, Reinier. The Intelligent Ear: On the Nature of Sound Perception. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.
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Reed, C. M., W. M. Rabinowitz, N. I. Durlach, L. D. Braida, S. Conway-Fithian, and M. C. Schultz. “Research on the Tadoma Method of Speech Communication.” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 77, no. 1 (January 1985): 247–57. https://doi.org/10.1121/1.392266.
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Stein, Deborah Kent. “The Optacon: Past, Present, and Future.” nfb.org. Accessed July 2, 2020. https://www.nfb.org/sites/www.nfb.org/files/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm98/bm980506.htm.
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VanHemert, Kyle. “Cosmic Visuals Made With Light, Sound, and … Soap?” Wired, March 27, 2014. https://www.wired.com/2014/03/cosmic-visuals-made-light-sound-soap/.
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