A full transcript of the interview with Myles de Bastion is here.

The first ever Northwest Deaf Arts Festival will be held in Portland on Saturday. The featured deaf artists include rapper Sean Forbes; choreographer and dancer Antoine Hunter; poet Raymond Luczack; and Myles de Bastion, a deaf musician and the festival founder.

De Bastion runs CymaSpace, the local nonprofit for deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, which is putting on the festival.

De Bastion told “Think Out Loud” about his drive to create a scientific non-auditory experience of music for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. He said he has been experimenting with the correlations between the frequencies of light and sound to visually reflect the sound waves by using different colors, creating something known as “visual sound.” It’s very different, he said, from setting up flashing lights that merely blink in time to a beat.

“In my mind, it is entirely possible to make sound visible, and that it actually is the sound,” de Bastion said.

He uses an algorithm to match low sound to red light frequencies, high sound to ultraviolet and vocal sound to green.

“It is literally a system that is analyzing the audio information and taking that data and just translating it — transforming it — into the light domain,” he said.

The festival will also feature tactile ways of experiencing sound.

As a young child de Bastion said he remembers sitting on his grandfather’s lap watching and feeling him play the piano. De Bastion would feel the instrument play the low notes and wonder why he couldn’t feel the higher notes.

“That was kind of like unraveling this mysterious sensation,” de Bastion said. “I wanted to know more about, why am I feeling this here and, as I went toward the higher end, why I wasn’t feeling anything.”

Deaf musician Myles de Bastion performs on stage. 

Deaf musician Myles de Bastion performs on stage. 

Courtesy of Myles De Bastion 

Now, much older than the child who used to sit on his grandfather’s lap, de Bastion still relies on the physical sensations of sound to play music.

“For an acoustic instrument, I really have to wrap my entire body around it to try to transfer the vibrations into my chest cavity,” he said referring to his guitar.

De Bastion also rests his chin against the instrument because of its proximity to the inner ear. In his performances though, de Bastion is able to crank up the volume for a more intense feeling.

“A lot of my performance is about the extreme changes from a beautiful, lush, gentle soundscape to kind of a loud wall of noise, roaring sound that will be really physical and be felt,” he said.

To hear the “Think Out Loud” conversation with Myles de Bastion, click play in the audio player above.

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