Working Blind

For those of us obsessed with sound and music, the idea of losing our primary creative sense is unthinkable. I cannot think of a more confronting reality than to be made aware of some form of degenerative hearing loss (more fool you if its voluntarily caused by your iPod or not taking ear plugs to loud concerts!) but what if you had to work blind? With little or no eyesight, would you continue to work with sound/music?
The answer for me would be, HELL YES! I can well imagine it intensifying the process, as the distraction of vision is removed the focus on hearing would surely become absolute…

But what about the practicalities? Can you touch type? Do you look at the keyboard when you execute shortcuts? Finding your way around a physical instrument would be ok, even if it required adding small indents or bumps for locating octaves or specific notes, but what about apps? Could you edit sounds with ProTools without looking, ever?
A friend made a request for help with this very subject: did I (and thereby you) have some suggestions for blind sound editing? He had already checked out my ProTools mouse-less editing post from a few years ago… So a question for you:

1. What other options or ideas would you suggest, if you had to set up and use ProTools with zero visual feedback? Even better, do you know someone who is visually impaired and doing this? Obviously this can’t involve sync to picture, but say you were editing dialogue for a talking book or a radio show? What shortcuts, setups or extra hardware could be fundamentally beneficial?

And a second question:


When I do my Artists Residency in Auckland later in the year, I will be holding a listening workshop and one of the exercises/experiences will involve wearing a blindfold – to effectively make the listeners temporarily blind. So my second question is:

2. If you had a small audience of blindfolded people, what are some of the most interesting perceptual hearing tests or audible experiences you could provide? or from the other point of view, if you were blindfolded, standing in a paddock and wanted to have your perceptions engaged, what form might that take? I’m not planning this to play music – its more about listening and perception….
As an example, the first idea that came to my mind was about locating the source of different kinds of sounds. So I will have say five people standing at various distances and locations around the audience (ie in front, to the sides and behind) and ask the audience to point their finger at the location of the sound. Then try different sounds, comparing a percussive hand clap versus more continuous tones eg a harmonica.
What would you try?

6 Responses to Working Blind

  1. Refund says:

    my brother has been involved with about 6-7 different local lowkey orchestra groups, and a few years ago he lost almost all of his hearing in one ear, and a little bit in the other.

    he said that he could still hear a little bit in his bad ear, but it would do strange things like spike at certain frequencies, and it would occasionally change which frequencies it spiked, in a similar way to how your ears loose/gain clarity when you change altitude quickly.

    he also mentioned that many frequencies that he could hear just fine in his good ear would sound completely different in the other, he would often be playing ‘off notes’ because he knew that although it sounded bad to him, he was in fact playing the correct note.

    most of the instruments he played were very high range (flute, piccolo, clarinet)

  2. Refund says:

    re: q2

    I saw an internet video a while ago (had a quick search, couldn’t find it) about a blind man that uses echolocation and teaches other blind people to do the same.

    some of the first excercises involved having them make clicking noises while he walked around the room aiming a parbolic dish (a metal salad bowl) at them from different angles/distances

  3. I think an analog studio would be more suited to a sight-impaired engineer. Run the tape machine, set hot cues and uses your ears to get levels that aren’t distorting. Either that or get an intern.

  4. tim says:

    Was thinking, one approach could be to have someone set up all the Fkeys as shortcuts as per a realistic workflow… Along those lines these keyboard stickers with raised braille indents (outdents?) could be an affordable option for identifying Fkeys etc by touch

    I identify some often-used shortcuts without looking (i.e. identify by touch that F2 is third from the top left on the keyboard)

  5. ErikG says:

    For editing, that would have to be the old fairlight MFX3 controller.
    After a while you just dont lokk at it at all.
    Technically inferior and long past its hey day of course.
    But nothing else comes even close!

    That had to be the best tactile editor surface ever.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.