LOS ANGELES (Kyodo) Being hard of hearing does not mean you cannot enjoy a good concert. Or at least that’s the idea being pushed by Pioneer Electronics Inc.’s new listening technology for the deaf and hearing-impaired.

The technology made its U.S. debut recently in Los Angeles at a concert featuring music by the Asia America Symphony Association and Japanese jazz pianist and composer Keiko Matsui.

The Listening Through The Body technology, as it is called by Pioneer, uses a transmitter in a specially designed seat cushion and small pillowlike device to convert live musical sounds into vibrations that let hearing-impaired people experience music.

The portable equipment has built-in amplifiers developed by Pioneer that can be fitted to any standard concert hall seat, allowing audience members to “feel” musical rhythms and vibrations through their body and fingertips.

The equipment brought from Japan for the Los Angeles concert is based on a concept created by Pioneer founder Nozomu Matsumoto more than 30 years ago.

Matsumoto’s vision was based on his passion for music and his desire to help people who had lost their hearing or who were not able to enjoy live concerts.

Pioneer has since improved the listening technology greatly and has been using it to host free monthly concerts in the lobby of its headquarters in Tokyo since 1992.

Sakura Yamashita, a Pioneer employee from the Listen Through The Body concert office in Tokyo, said the units are specially designed for ease of placement and portability so space can be made to enable “hearing-impaired people to enjoy music with their family and friends by their side.”

Yamashita flew from Japan with several other Pioneer employees to help with the concert setup. She said the most rewarding part of her job is “seeing people who had given up hope of ever hearing music again be able to come to a concert and enjoy it with their loved ones.”

Pioneer has held concerts throughout Japan as well as in Belgium and Singapore, but the Los Angeles event on June 9 marked the debut of the technology in the United States.

For the concert in Los Angeles, Pioneer invited guests from local centers that offer resources to the hearing-impaired, including the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness and the OC Deaf Equal Access Foundation, to watch the concert for free.

Darryl Tanikawa, executive director of the Asia America Symphony Association, said before the concert that he hoped that hearing-impaired people in the audience would be able “to experience a live concert like they had when they could still hear.”

At each break during the performance, loud whoops, cheers and calls of “Bravo!” erupted from the section equipped with the technology.

It takes about two hours to set up 20 seats and each unit is worth approximately $1,000. Pioneer does not manufacture the vibrating seat cushions and vibrating hand-held devices for public distribution.

When asked whether all concert halls should be equipped with this sort of technology, Tanikawa replied enthusiastically: “Definitely. What a wonderful experience to offer hearing-impaired concert audiences.”

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