CNMN > Projects > Sound is Touch

Dr. Daniel Oore, International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation & Memorial University

  • Open (def: scores for unspecified instrumentation)
  • Found objects or art supplies
  • Voice
  • Digital devices
  • 5 to 12 years of age
  • 13 to 18 years of age
  • Adults
  • Seniors
  • Intergenerational
  • Education
  • Community associations
  • Health

Sound is Touch


Lis­ten­ing, touch­ing, feel­ing and sound­ing activ­i­ties using your voice, hands, whole body, instru­ments, or speak­ers (e.g. on phone, com­put­er, ear­phones). These sound activ­i­ties are for peo­ple of all —includ­ing hear­ing and non-hear­ing— abilities.

Note: To help pre­vent germ trans­mis­sion, wash and/or dis­in­fect your hands, oth­er body parts, and objects used before, in between, and after the activ­i­ties described here!


Your music touched me —I was moved.

The metaphors we use reveal our lived expe­ri­ence: we feel sound all over our bod­ies! Feel the music… feel the bass!

Our uni­verse is filled with ongo­ing motion, result­ing in touch that trans­fers ener­gy. The ener­gy of this touch can cause more move­ment, such as vibra­tions. Vibra­tions are back and forth oscil­la­tions of mat­ter that rever­ber­ate and trav­el as waves. When vibra­tions reach our bod­ies they touch and move us, our skin, bones, joints, blood ves­sels, and organs, like our ears.

Sound touch­es us, caus­ing and also com­pelling us to move in dif­fer­ent ways. This is pow­er­ful. Sound and music are inti­mate: they touch the entire body, out­side and inside. Vibra­tions trav­el and touch us, from across dis­tances. Every­body has sounds they want or don’t want to touch. Can you think of some?


Sing a con­tin­u­ous sound (e.g. a vow­el). Can you feel your mouth, neck, and oth­er body parts vibrat­ing? Con­tin­ue singing the same sound and gen­tly touch togeth­er your upper and low­er lips. Then try touch­ing togeth­er your upper and low­er teeth —the front teeth and then the back. What changes do you feel?

Slow­ly shift back and forth between two sung sounds (e.g. two vow­els like “ah-oo-ah-oo”). Can you feel what move­ments in your body cause the sound to change? Sing and hold the palm of your hand just in front of your mouth. What do you feel on your hand and face?

Now sing and use your hands to gen­tly touch dif­fer­ent areas of your body (e.g. your nose, lips, throat, back, or chest). How do vibra­tions of dif­fer­ent sounds feel in dif­fer­ent parts of your body? Grad­u­al­ly change the sound (e.g.: to a dif­fer­ent vow­el, con­so­nant or sono­rant, to a dif­fer­ent octave, or to a dif­fer­ent loud­ness). Do cer­tain sounds feel distinct?

Explore touch­ing sounds while your ears are plugged (or while wear­ing head­phones that are play­ing white noise). How does this change your sen­sa­tion of vibrations?

Explore vibra­tions with objects in your home: a musi­cal instru­ment or a spoon tap­ping and slid­ing along a met­al bowl or table. How do the vibra­tions of these dif­fer­ent motions feel? Try gen­tly damp­en­ing the vibra­tions of the bowl on dif­fer­ent parts of your arm or foot. Fill the bowl with water and con­tin­ue… can you see the vibra­tions rip­pling on the water? Sing dif­fer­ent vow­els into the bowl until you find one that real­ly res­onates! Make music by explor­ing the sen­sa­tions of vibra­tions —try plug­ging your ears and also clos­ing your eyes.

Sound is touch. When we hear sound, we are vibrat­ing —mov­ing— togeth­er with this sound. This is powerful.

Like the tiny parts inside the ear, a micro­phone con­tains thin and sen­si­tive com­po­nents that vibrate sim­i­lar­ly to the sounds that touch it. The microphone’s vibra­tions are con­vert­ed into vari­a­tions of elec­tri­cal ener­gy which get trans­mit­ted to oth­er devices and, even­tu­al­ly, back into vibra­tions of a speak­er… at a con­cert or in your phone or com­put­er. Explore the vibra­tions of speak­ers. Inflate a bal­loon and explore how its thin mem­brane vibrates with dif­fer­ent sounds. What does your favourite music feel like to touch? Would you rec­og­nize it with your ears plugged?

Can you tell if some­one you know is feel­ing sad, joy­ful, angry, or anoth­er emo­tion, by the sounds they make when they come home? Do you feel their vibe-rations?

Maybe your friend will explore vibra­tion with you? Make sound togeth­er, per­haps tak­ing turns care­ful­ly and gen­tly touch­ing agreed upon parts of each other’s bod­ies or musi­cal instru­ments. Where do you feel motion and vibra­tion when your friend plays a recorder or gui­tar? If you’re explor­ing through a phone or com­put­er con­nec­tion, take turns sound­ing and feel­ing the speak­er vibra­tions against your bodies.

Dis­cov­er which types of sounds your dif­fer­ent body parts are sen­si­tive to. What parts of your body feel more sen­si­tive in dis­tin­guish­ing high­er, mid, or low­er-range fre­quen­cies (pitch­es), and between more and less intense vibra­tions? What vibra­tions com­pel you to move and dance?

When you hear a sound, notice and explore your sen­sa­tions of vibra­tions and your instincts to move your body.

Let sound touch us! 


How does touch­ing a sound with your hand, alter the sound? Flick­ing the tongue while vocal­iz­ing or flick­ing the hand in front of the vocal­iz­ing mouth is an ancient tech­nique and has an ono­matopoe­ic term in Eng­lish: ‘ulu­la­tion’ (which is also used to refer to wail­ing). In fact, dif­fer­ent lan­guages seem to use com­pa­ra­ble “l‑l” sounds to describe this sound-flick­ing tech­nique. Some the­o­ries sug­gest that the first part of the word “hallelu+ja” (Hebrew “praise/shout to + G‑d”) orig­i­nat­ed from such praise­ful, trilling ulu­la­tion. Dif­fer­ent reli­gions describe God and God’s cre­ative pow­er as sound and vibration.

(Clean your phone!) Cup your hand around the phone speak­er and then gen­tly move your fin­gers and palm to change the res­o­nance fre­quen­cy. You can also do this with the speak­er placed near your mouth and move your mouth as though you are say­ing “wow wow” (but with­out using your voice). You are chang­ing the vow­el shape of your mouth a bit like a “wah wah” mute on a brass instru­ment or elec­tric ped­al. Remem­ber ear­li­er we explored shift­ing back-and-forth between sounds, like “oo-ah-oo” —”wow”?!

Run your fin­ger along dif­fer­ent objects (e.g. a plas­tic con­tain­er, a drink­ing glass, a wall, a table). Can you guess the vibra­to­ry qual­i­ty of a sur­face by mere­ly hold­ing it, with­out mov­ing your skin along its sur­face? Can you infer the tex­tur­al rhythm of an object just by look­ing at it? Use a pen­cil and paper to draw imag­i­nary shapes and tex­tures (not objects), and give your page of draw­ings to a friend for them to cre­ate the sound of each tex­ture (per­haps as you indi­cate the pres­sure and rate of motion with your hand). Guess which of your images your friend is soni­fy­ing! Adapt the “Eye Spy…” game: “I touch with my lit­tle fin­ger some­thing that feels like [make the sound of the tex­ture with your mouth]!” (Cf. “Opta­con”.)

Are mechano, ther­mo, pho­to, and chemo–reception each a form of touch?

Sing a sound and imag­ine your toes or oth­er extrem­i­ties vibrat­ing or res­onat­ing with your voice. Do you feel some­thing? How and why?

Micro­phones res­onate with sounds that touch their sen­si­tive com­po­nents. Do oth­er objects also “feel” each other’s vibra­tions and res­onate togeth­er? Exper­i­ment with or watch videos of pen­du­lum clocks or mechan­i­cal metronomes syn­chro­niz­ing when they are placed on a com­mon sur­face. (Cf. “Entrain­ment or Mode Locking”.)


“Mechanore­cep­tors” are dis­trib­uted across our body to sense dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of touch, vibra­tion, and pressure.

If a vibra­tion oscil­lates reg­u­lar­ly (“peri­od­i­cal­ly” return­ing to the same con­di­tion at equal incre­ments of time) between 20 to 20,000 Hz (cycles per sec­ond) and is intense (loud) enough, the ear fus­es the sep­a­rate oscil­la­tions into an expe­ri­ence of con­tin­u­ous pitched tone. The low­est note on a piano is 27.5 Hz, and a lit­tle below that, from 25 down to 20 Hz, pitch­es sound more wob­bly and indis­tinct, and from 20 Hz down (known as “infrapitch”) to about 0.5 Hz (one cycle every two sec­onds), each oscil­la­tion is heard as a dis­crete click (a “pulse”) with­in a steadi­ly repeat­ing rhythm. Dif­fer­ent oscil­la­tions can also be expe­ri­enced as vibra­tion and pres­sure changes by mechanore­cep­tors all over our body. And even fre­quen­cies that we can’t feel as dis­tinct vibra­tion or pres­sure changes, may still affect our bod­ies.  






Vibratese Lan­guage




Essen­tic and Sen­tic Forms (See Clynes, in book & doc­u­ment list below)

Entrain­ment or mode locking

Vestibu­lar Self-Motion (See Bharucha, in book & doc­u­ment list below)


Con­cept — Daniel Oore

Text — Daniel Oore

Nar­ra­tion — Daniel Oore

Video Demon­stra­tion — Jonathan Oore & Daniel Oore

Videog­ra­phy — Sta­cy Smith, Jonathan Oore, Daniel Oore

Video & Audio edit­ing — Daniel Oore

Orig­i­nal Music & Sound­scape — Daniel Oore

Con­sul­tants — Dr. Morde­cai Oore, P. Eng (IMP Aero­space) & Dr. Jonathan Oore, MD (McGill Uni­ver­si­ty) 


To help pre­vent germ trans­mis­sion, wash and/or dis­in­fect your hands, oth­er body parts, and objects used before, in between, and after the activ­i­ties described. 

The demon­stra­tions in this video have been sped up to allow a high­er num­ber of ideas to be pre­sent­ed in an enter­tain­ing man­ner. Try­ing these activ­i­ties at such a fast paces is not rec­om­mend­ed (and could even result in injury…). If you want to watch the activ­i­ties slow­ly, select a slow­er play­back speed in the YouTube video pref­er­ences. 


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