Last week, I had a multi-sensory music playdate with Tim Baker, resident musician at Sense TouchBase Pears. This was my first visit to the beautiful West Midlands hub of the charity Sense which supports people with complex disabilities.
From his music studio at Sense TouchBase Pears, Tim runs music sessions for people with special needs. I had ‘music cave’ envy – this was heaven for a multi-sensory sound junkie like me.
Tim’s collection ranged from traditional instruments (guitars, drums, xylophone bars, bell chimes, rain stick, shakers) to digital equipment which enables users to feel amplified sound vibrations (SUB-PAC and vibrating floor) and an awesomely cool Om wand.
It looks like a kite frame with a very thin, clear wide rubber band stretched around it (like the kind you find on invisible straps in clothes) You swish this around in the air and it makes a low sound like a lightsaber.
The vibrating floor and SUBPAC were a revelation – best experienced with ear defenders to minimise sound coming in through your ears.
As a musician, I know that sound is produced by vibrations – in guitars, the strings vibrate and is amplified by the body of the instrument. In a drum, the stretched skin of the drum vibrates, etc. But this was the first time I’ve ever experienced the vibrational qualities of music mainly through my skin instead of my ears. Eureka moment!
The SUBPAC is basically a subwoofer attached to a backpack which fits snugly against the users back. If you play music through it, the user experiences music as vibrations. Low sounds are felt most clearly, but higher tones have their own buzz too.
The vibrating floor is a specially commissioned piece built by Bria and Nathan at GROOVE . It is essentially a subwoofer attached to the underside of a wooden platform. Tim says “I got the inspiration at the “Aural Diversity Conference in 2019, and Luke (Woodbury) from DotLib lent his insight and experience from building the one used then”. You can stand, sit or lie down on the floor to experience the vibrations music channelled through the wood. I even played the piano on it – barefoot with ear defenders to enhance the experience. After a few minutes of using the vibrating floor, my skin began to tingle. When I took the ear defenders off and stepped off the vibrating floor, my skin felt hypersensitive and continued bringing me sensations from every sound in the room including our voices.
There is a very useful toolkit on the Sense TBP website with great suggestions for trying out sound and vibration activities on your own.
If you’ve never visited it, I highly recommend dropping in to the beautiful and inclusive space which is Sense TouchBase Pears. There is a cafe adjoining the Selly Oak library, community classes, outdoor seating areas, and co-working spaces.