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Vibrating jackets making concerts more inclusive

Article author :

Emma Mestriner

With a Master's degree in Press and Information from IHECS (2020), Emma Mestriner discovered her passion for journalism while writing her rather dubious teenage diary. She has a particular interest in digital information. The new formats enable her to think creatively about information in 360 degrees, breaking out of certain traditional shackles. Determined, rigorous and versatile, she is a freelance web journalist and multimedia content creator for RTBF's Belgian series. Her areas of interest include society, gender, new technologies and culture. She also plays drums in her spare time.

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In Corsica this summer, volunteers from the ‘Pôle surdité’ (‘Deafness hub’) association have been making the rounds of the festivals in order to trial vibrating jackets. What’s so special about them? They allow deaf and hard-of-hearing people to fully benefit from the vibrations produced at a concert. For the first time, they can feel deep sounds and the bass notes. A unique experience, for more inclusive festivals.

To begin with, these jackets were created to improve video gamers’ playing conditions and offer an enhanced cinema experience in Virtual Reality. Manufactured by the American-Canadian company, TiMMPi, these sensory jackets, named ‘Subpacs,’ earned a sharp uptick in popularity during the repeated COVID lockdowns.

How do they work? In concrete terms, the jackets translate notes and sound effects by means of an algorithm, to transform them into vibrations, whilst simultaneously following the rhythm of the song. ‘Your body starts to resonate, as if you were right at the heart of the music: live from a festival, at a concert, out at a nightclub, or at a film show,’ the company explains, on its website.

More inclusive concerts

Throughout the whole of the summer in Corsica, the value of these jackets has been in extending inclusiveness, and they have been available at 17 festival concerts (including those performed by Angèle, Soprano and Michel Polnareff). On July 30, in Ajaccio, Camille Coti, 74 years old and deaf from birth, attended a concert for the very first time in her life, the artist in question being Angèle. She has shared her feelings about the event, translated by Léana Barrazza at the AFP: ‘It’s very powerful, very strong, really wonderful! I feel the vibrations above all in my rib cage.’

Similarly, Karima Mouro, also deaf from birth, has described her experience: ‘It’s really great, the feelings progress little by little. I have already been to concerts, but I felt nothing apart from vibrations through my feet, but with the jacket I benefit from the concert so much more,’ she says. ‘I feel the whole of the music, it makes me feel like dancing.’ 

At each concert, two volunteers from the ‘Pôle surdité de Corse’ association are on hand to provide information and assistance to those who would like to give the jackets a whirl. 

A technological marvel which is all the rage

Whilst these trials have made a big splash in the press this summer, it is not the first time that these vibrating jackets have been used across the world. In fact, several stars (including the well-known British group, Coldplay) had already adopted them last year. In 2022, the festival Les Nuits de Fourvière in Lyon had these jackets available, as did the Rouen Opera House and Les Francofolies de La Rochelle afterwards.

Ableism: a society built for able-bodied people

This summer in Corsica, 5 jackets each weighing 1.2kg were available at 17 concerts. A significant technological and inclusive breakthrough … but a figure which anyhow demonstrates the extent to which ableism remains omnipresent in our society. Ableism, what’s that again? It is a form of discrimination based on disability which consists of viewing everything through the prism of able-bodied people. Charlotte Puiseaux, a Doctor of Philosophy and member of the handiféministe collective, explains through her work that, in a capitalist society, an able body is one which is profitable and usable. In her opinion, there is a hierarchy of bodies within our contemporary world.

In the European Union, over 85 million people are affected by a form of disability. Here’s hoping that the NICT (new Information and Communication Technologies), as is the case with this invention of vibrating jackets, will contribute to building a society which is inclusive of everyone in the future.

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