Haptic Hearing

It’s been a noisy few weeks for me, as I sand and drill and build in my home. This experience of sound as something tangible, physical, is helping me form ideas for a new opera project with composer Stephen Bentley Klein and Tete-A-Tete. Looking at astronomer Annie Jump Cannon; whose life work was the cataloguing of over 300, 000  stars using spectroscopic photographs, we were struck by the isolated nature of her work, and the link between this and the severe hearing impairment she suffered.

Annie was born in 1864, and went deaf after a bout of scarlet fever at the age of about 20. She was studying physics at the time; an unusual occupation for a woman in the 1880’s. Did her deafness help her single-minded concentration as she spent four decades counting the stars?

I have also been looking at early hearing aid technology as research for the project. In the examples below, there are many objects that funnel or pour sound into the ear, but the ones that intrigue me most are the bone conductors. These convey sound- which is a vibration, a physical presence – into the body without needing the ears. These objects allow you to hear through you teeth. Sound is a made a sense of touch, a haptic hearing that requires the whole body. We will be harnessing this concept in our opera piece as we develop work that deaf and hearing audience members alike can appreciate.

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