Cymatic Lighting: How the Deaf Can Benefit from “Visual Sound”

Around 360 million people in the world and 1 in 8 Americans live in partial or complete silence because of hearing loss.

Cultural events such as social gatherings and performing arts are a powerful way to build up communities. However, the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) can’t always enjoy their benefits as these events usually rely on sound to deliver their message or experience.

And because artists and venues don’t usually have the resources or aren’t even aware that their events are not inclusive for those who can’t hear, there should be a way to translate sound into other senses to make cultural events more accessible.

How Cymatic Lighting Came to Be

A Deaf musician created the needs and functionality of the Cymatic Lighting system.

Lighting visualization is essential in giving meaningful cues to the nature of the sound.

To create a relationship between where the sound was panned in space and the visual pattern that is displayed, stereoscopic features of sound are translated.

Qualities of sound, such as frequency and amplitude, are mapped to resemble similar qualities of light luminosity and hues through algorithms.

This is done as precisely as possible to get detailed information about the sound that could convey the audio and music cues into visuals.

Evolving from Blinking Lights

By combining a scientific and technical approach, you can explore the relationship between sound and light by integrating Cymatic principles (the study of sound made visible).

This is the best way to improve the concept of visual sound beyond several blinking lights from earlier technology.

Sometimes, the basic depiction may not be very accurate at conveying the difference between the notes being played.

That’s why integrating additional code and algorithms that respond to the acoustic envelope (dynamics) of audio makes it more responsive.

To make the whole process more advanced, multiple strips of LEDs can be added in a 2D grid to allow the users to see tiny changes in timbre.

For example, users being able to tell the difference in harmonics and distribution of frequencies that lead to recognizing the difference between a string, percussion, or synthesizer instrument.

Feedback from the DHH

According to deaf users, integrating the Cymatic Lighting system into the environment (furniture or architecture) gave them a more relatable and engaging experience when it came to live or recorded music performances.

They were better able to follow the rhythm and distinguish between individual instruments such as drums or guitars from a mix of instruments. This truly enhances the way they experience music.

They even showed interest in installing the technology as an alert or safety system. This is because it can easily convey any audio signal by turning it into simple yet precise expressions of light and movement.

When installed as part of a smart home lighting system, the technology indicates the difference between a fire alarm alert and a doorbell.

Future Development

A lot of upgrades can take place with the system, including wireless control from mobile devices. This includes streaming wireless music via Bluetooth and incorporating a 2-way alert feedback so that users can receive notifications and own light display visualization displayed on their mobile device screens. 

Final Thoughts

Making more venues aware of the needs of the DHH opens up more opportunities to involve them as well as bring a broader range of communities together.