Soft electronics

German designer Katja Riley found a way to translate music into a tactile experience. Her project “Touched by Music” is an example of tomorrow’s wearable technology that does not bring the feeling of wearing tech. According to her vision, next generation of electronics will become soft, visibly disappear, and will relate to different human senses.

– Usually, hearing sense overpowers our touch sense. ”Touched by Music” project gives people a new experience of music, which is a tactile way of hearing – said Katja Riley, the author of the research that is much more than an ambitious bachelor project. ”Touched by Music” is a fascinating story about human senses, technology, wearable devices, music, dance, design, fashion and e-textiles all at once.

New textile-based products will move the technology to the fiber level.

”Touched by Music” is a top made of electronic textiles that makes music feelable on the human body. There are twelve small vibrating motors integrated with the garment. An MP3 file is sent via Bluetooth to a microcontroller integrated with the device. When the controller receives and analyzes the data, it activates motors adequately.

Touched by Music e-textiles

There are low frequencies vibrating motors on left and right sides of the stomach. Medium frequencies motors (the drum) are placed on the upper chest. On the back on the neck, there are high-frequency motors.

In contrast to today’s most products that bury technology inside a hard shell which consist of many materials, the next-generation products and their interface may be made of the same soft material.

The microcontroller and vibration motors are connected to each other and powered trough a conductive thread integrated into the fabric. A removable battery is located just next to the microcontroller on the lower back.

Touched by Music architecture

Katja Riley emphasizes that motors do not simply vibrate in a rhythm of a music. Vibrations rates are dynamic, which means they portray a mood of each song. If the wearer is happy or sad and chooses a matching song, an adequate emotion will be felt on his or her body.

Quotations used in this article have been edited for space and clarity. To listen to the original interview with Katja Riley watch the video embedded below. To learn more about conductive threads, pay particular attention to the part between 6th and 7th minute of the video.

Katja’s wearable device enables anyone who can’t hear or has limited hearing to experience music, but the designer does not address her project only to deaf or hearing impaired people (though, she is very happy that they can benefit from her project).

– Music is not just something we enjoy. It makes us feel better. It can heal. With this device, you can either choose just to feel the music, or you can listen to it and feel at the same time – Katja explains.

Touched by Music What is music

– All of us, those who can hear and those who can not, feel the music on our bodies, as music is nothing else than sound waves that hit us. The tactile experience is what makes us to really like a song. That’s why we turn on music very loud when we really want to feel it. When we are at the concert our experience is different from listening to music at home. The emotional side of music, which is the feeling of it, can be portrayed anywhere with my wearable – the designer continues.

Katja is the most excited about the materials she discovered during her research. She is fascinated by electronic textiles and how they could make electronics soft: – With e-textiles, we can give a new feel to electronic products and make them more human.

Touched by Music wearable credits TrendNomad
Photography by

The first “Touched by Music” prototype is at the testing stage. It is not ready for a consumer market, and it is just a suggestion of how the final product may look like. The prototype was sewn, but Katja wishes to manufacture its final version on a seamless knitting machine.

– The technology chosen to produce this product is not something I can make a model just like that. There are very specific and huge industrial knitting machines necessary. It’s expensive at the beginning, as there is a lot of know-how and specialists needed to set-up such a machine, but when you go into production, then it is not expensive anymore. It is quite sustainable and much quicker method than cutting and sewing fabrics. Seamless knitting is kind of 3D printing for clothes. It comes out of a machine in one piece, cutting or sewing are unnecessary – Katja adds.

In the next 5-10 years we will see e-textile-based products that enable completely new ways of how we deal with electronics.

On the other hand, reusing and recycling e-textiles, including separating conductive threads from regular textiles, are near-future-problems the industry will encounter and should think of solving them in advance. Katja Riley suggests that the solution may be found by working with e-textiles manufacturers from the very beginning. Moreover, smart textile products must have specific new labelling standard to ensure correct disposal.

The designer believes that people will treat e-clothing differently than a regular garment which sometimes has a lifetime of a week. In her opinion, with additional functions and increased value people will use electronic clothing much longer than they do today with cheap fast fashion.

Touched by Music Katja Riley at DMY Berlin 2016 credits TrendNomad
Photography by

I met and interviewed Katja Riley at the exhibition organised by University of Applied Sciences in Berlin at DMY 2016 design festival, which ran June 2-5 in the capital of Germany. If you would like to ask some questions regarding ”Touched by music” project, please contact the designer directly at

Photos 1, 2, 3 and 4 depict slides included in the presentation shown by Katja Riley at DMY Berlin 2016.

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