Vi is a music device designed by UK-based product designer Dimitri Hadjichristou that allows deaf children to experience music in a way that encompasses both tactile and visual music interaction.
Using a cheap speaker and a littleBits Synth Kit, Vi prompts the user to stick together its Lego-like components to create sounds, the sounds then vibrate the speaker, which in turn vibrates the ball bearings in the glass-dome top creating a visualized music experience. The speaker housing is made from thin plywood, allowing users to feel musical vibrations as they resonate through the material.
Vi was the result of a thesis project at the Edinburgh College of Art. The project derived from Dimitri’s studies indicating that deaf experience music through vibrations. His initial goal was to translate this music experience to a product for everyone.
Following interviews with the deaf, Dimitri came into contact with Donaldson’s, a school specializing in the education of deaf children.
“I sat in on their music lessons where they used a resonance board for music therapy, typically designed for laying a child on and playing music through for them to feel the musical vibrations. Differently however they connected it to a keyboard for the child to play, generating a greater response because the child had control. They were feeling what they played, increasing their understanding of what they felt opposed to just feeling vibrations. However the board was enormous, overly complicated, and didn’t embody playfulness, so my aim was to redesign it into a smaller, intuitive, playful product.”
Once completed, ‘Vi’ was tested against a large group of Donaldson’s students ranging from 7 – 14.
“The reception was extremely positive, each age group engaged the device enthusiastically; also we observed with older students the device should be more experimental and versatile as they were taking off the glass-top, substituting different materials to the ball bearings, plugging the device to a keyboard and their iPhones to see the visual differences. We also found the device worked very effectively with autistic children.”
About the Materials
“Fun fact: ‘Cymatics’ is the study of sound-generated vibrations’ effect on matter. I investigated many materials, mostly food-based, for the ability to visually display sound, finding that jelly had the most interesting visual. Of course I couldn’t use jelly for obvious reasons so I resorted to the next best thing, which was ball bearings.”