Music for More than Just the Ears
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Music for More than Just the Ears

Photo of emoti-chairs at the Ontario Science Centre by Meghan McGuinness.

Next month, Clinton’s Tavern is hosting a concert with Fox Jaws, The Dufraines, ill.gates, Stéphane Vera, and Hollywood Swank. But unlike your typical indie-ish concert, this show won’t be the type where people stand with crossed arms, nonchalantly tapping their toes to the beat. Attendees will have no choice but to be moved by the music―literally.
Clinton’s is hosting the world’s first rock concert for the deaf, a chance for those who can’t normally attend to get a grasp on the live music experience. And rather than standing in a crowded, sweaty room, they’ll lie back and lounge in a row of four emoti-chairs―chairs that look like high-tech, oversized loungers and act as interpreters, translating sound frequencies into vibrations for the body (check out these kids testing a chair to the sounds of a drum kit). The chair lets its users feel emotions similar to that of their ear-enabled counterparts, redefining what it’s like to “feel” music. It works so well that some participants sway in their seats with the melody, able to differentiate one instrument from the next.
The idea came in Ryerson Associate Professor Deborah Fels’s study of closed-captioning. She observed that while the tiny text at the bottom of the screen covers a character’s speech, it entirely neglects the intended tone, the ambiance of the scene. To give the deaf a full television experience, she needed a way to make them feel the mood set by the music, and―voila!―two years later, and, with the help of a funding grant and Ryerson’s Science of Music and Auditory Technology (SMART) Lab, the emoti-chair is in action. The chair rocks and vibrates to the speed of the beat, and uses special effects like a blast of cool air to mimic the feeling listeners experience at a conventional rock concert. And out-of-chair, the upcoming concert will feature interpreters, captions, and music visualizations to make the experience resonate even louder. And it will be loud, really loud, cranked up to max volume so that those hard of hearing can enjoy it, too. Regardless of how your ears work, you can head to Clinton’s for the full-body experience―but, to protect your own ears for the future (oh, the irony), you just might want to pick up a pair of ear plugs at the door.
Clinton’s is hosting the first-ever accessible concert for the deaf and hard of hearing on March 5th. Doors are at 8 p.m., with a suggested $5 donation. Thanks to Karen Whaley for the tip.