Whether it’s the current dominance of the electronicic bastard child that is dubstep (steel yourselves Muse fans), or the post-soul, post-rock, post-everything mentality, to even the stranger side of the spectrum (that’ll be the Yoko Ono/Sonic Youth fans covered), it seems these days that genres and styles are so fluid that almost everything’s been done in some way or another.

But have you ever heard of vibrotactile music?

Don’t worry, we’re not going to get all hipster on you, because there’s a reason it’s a genre you haven’t heard of yet. That’s because it’s based on futuristic technology that is still only in its early stages.

Self-described ‘researcher/instructor/constultant Carmen Branje has developed a new instrument called The Vibrochord, which is the first of its kind to enable the new art form known as vibrotactile music. Which, instead of being perceived audibly by the ear, relies on vibrations in the skin – or vibrotactile simulation.

The Vibrochord is a new keyboard-like device that is able to produce the necessary vibrotactile stimulation to produce music. There are a couple of key limitations however that’ll ensure you won’t see them down your local music shop any time soon.

Firstly, the average human’s vibrotactile perceptual system is only capable of perceiving a much smaller range of frequencies compared to that of hearing frequency. Specifically, only 20 Hz – 1000 Hz, whereas the human ear can perceive tones right through to 20,000 Hz.

Confused yet? Strap in, it gets more technical…

This essentially means that the number of ‘notes’ that the Vibraphone can play is extremely limited, making for only simple compositions, which leads us to our second limitation. For the effects of the Vibraphone to be perceived at all, it must be used in conjunction with another of Branje’s bizarre creations, The Emoti-Chair.

Called a ‘vibrotactile display’ unit, The Emoti-Chair is a specialised unit that essentially ‘translates’ the vibrations from the keyboard and sends them to anyone sitting in the chair, allowing them to perceived by the listener. The Emoti-Chair, explains Branje, possesses:

“Two motion actuators, eighteen voice coils, a low frequency transducer, and four air jets are each independently controlled by a computer interface to create a script for tactile sensations that can support or enhance the entertainment experience.”

The Emoti-Chair uses its various functions to stimulate the listener who ‘feels’ these encoded signals, which are based not only on the frequencies and amplitude of the person playing the Vibrophone, but also the added dimension of space – the distance between the instrument and the chair.

Therefore it takes multiple Emoti-Chairs for the music from the Vibraphone to be ‘heard’.

Since both the Vibraphone and the Emoti-Chair are in the prototype stage, we’re unlikely to see a swathe of vibrotactile DJs swarming the music scene anytime soon, but it’s an interesting development nonetheless. Imagine a concert hall of people in Emoti-Chairs actually sitting and listening – or vibrating – to the sounds of a few musos on Vibraphones.

A design concept for The Vibrachord and two Emoti-Chairs being used in conjunction. The player sits in an Emoti-Chair while playing The Vibrochord. The same vibrotactile stimulation can also be felt in a second chair in which an audience member is seated. The keyboard must be curved in order to allow the player to keep his back against The Emoti-Chair and therefore receive the vibrotactile stimulation at all times

Obscure technology and previously unheard sounds? Yep, Pitchfork-loving hipsters are going to lap this up.

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