We’ve been examining the history of Bone Conduction technology over several different articles. The last one we released, “The History Of Bone Conduction Headphone Technology And The Military” looked at the technology’s advancement in the hands of the military, we compared it to the internet, and examined at what point does military technology make its way to the civilian market.
Bone Conduction technology actually goes back further than this, where the military did have a significant role in advancing the tech (and in many ways still do) they didn’t invent it. As ever the military were innovators rather than creators.
So today we’d like to look back a little further and try to identify some of the historic milestones that have taken place in regard to Bone Conduction technology and see if this can shed any light on its origins and give users an insight into what makes the technology special.
We were going to focus primarily on the various patents that have been filed over the years, there are plenty of them, but we are fairly sure just listing patents wouldn’t be a very interesting read. Therefore, we’ve done our best to make our examples as colorful as possible.
We will also be looking at some of the History however, as some actually are rather interesting and do indeed teach us some insightful truths about why this technology has stood the test of time. And why it’s becoming more popular today. We touched on this very briefly in our last blog, but as the focus was on Bone Conduction technology and the military, we didn’t really explore it in detail.
The Concept of Bone Conduction
We have a quote below from a paper by the Army Research Laboratory called the Bone Conduction: Anatomy, Physiology, and Communication by Paula Henry and Tomasz R. Letowski dated May 2007.
“The concept of Bone Conduction was probably first proposed by Aristotle (circa 350 BC) in the form of “air internus” whereby the ear was separated from external air by the tympanic membrane and the sound waves were sent directly to the brain (Stenfelt, 1999).
Despite these early misconceptions, some elements of conductive hearing have been known and used since the 16th century
For example, in the 16th century, Girolamo Cardano determined that sound can be transmitted through the teeth and the skin (Ore, 1953). In the same time period, Girolamo Capivaccio used an iron rod held against the teeth to assess ear pathology. If no sound could be heard after the rod was struck, cochlear deafness was determined (Stenfelt, 1999).
Also during that period, Giovanni Filippo Ingrassia recommended sound transmission through the teeth as a way to enhance auditory perception (Weinkove, 1998), and in the 18th century, Ludwig van Beethoven apparently used this technique after he became deaf. He listened to his piano by holding a wooden rod connecting the piano keys to his teeth (Niemoeller, 1940). However, the sound transmission from the teeth to the cochlea was still misunderstood in the 16th and 17th centuries and was wrongly attributed to air conduction through the Eustachian tube.”
Bone Conduction in History
These particular examples of Bone Conduction in history are about as far away from warfare as it gets. But like Bone Conduction today, this example is a musical one. In fact, this may be one of the earliest examples of Bone Conduction being used. This person was also considered a genius then and still is now. So if you’re using Bone Conduction technology today, you’re in pretty good company all things considered.
If you’ve read any of our previous blogs then you’ll already have worked out who we’re talking about; that being Ludwig van Beethoven. While Beethoven may have not been the first example of human beings utilizing Bone Conduction (just think how old the phrase “keep your ear to the ground” is and what it represents), he may be the earliest example of someone developing actual technology that uses Bone Conduction to help in a musical endeavor.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Germany close to Christmas on December 16, 1770. He was a German pianist and composer. His musical talents were recognized by his parents and his father made sure he practiced rigorously. It is even said that his father used to beat him and was determined to make sure his son was a successful composer, whether he wanted to be or not.
Johann van Beethoven was a musician himself, but never reached the dizzying heights that his son attained. It’s suspected that his alcoholism and manner were the reason why; as he was not without talent by all accounts.
It’s suspected Johann pushed Ludwig hard to make sure he didn’t repeat his own mistakes. While it’s hard to condone Johann’s abusive behavior, it’s his son’s name we celebrate today and not his own. Perhaps this is exactly what he wanted to happen.
Under his father’s instruction, Beethoven started composing under the tutelage of another famous composer known as Christian Gottlob Neefe, who later recommended he move to Vienna and train under Joseph Haydn, also known as the father of the String Quartet’. Something Beethoven was fascinated by and would one day revolutionize.
Beethoven collected wisdom from each of these tutors and soon made a name for himself as a virtuoso pianist and composer in his own right. His talents caught the attention of a German Prince; Karl Alois Lichnowsky who was a high-ranking member of the Austrian court and a member of the German Royal Family (at the time called Prussia). Prince Lichnowsky was a tremendous fan of music and had an eye for talent, he was also close to Mozart as well as Beethoven during the course of his life.
Finding Fame And Fortune
In 1795 Prince Lichnowsky commissioned Beethoven to compose Opus 1, the success of which sky-rocketed Beethoven to national fame. Royal patronage was one thing to celebrate, but the people of Austria soon discovered that Beethoven was uniquely talented and his Opus 1 was the start of something truly special. His follow-up to Opus 1 known as Symphony No.1 was equally well received. Beethoven then looked to try something new and add his own personality to his works.
While making a name for himself it’s thought Beethoven played it safe’ and although very successful, his work was the sort of thing late 18th century composers were expected to produce. Beethoven now established wanted to push the envelope and create something different, something society would not expect. He knew that this was the way to separate himself from the other great composers of his time.
Beethoven’s String Quartet Two Violins, Viola, and a Cello
If you listen too and watch a quartet perform say “The Dover Quartet performs Beethoven’s String Quartet no.8” written in 1806″. You cannot escape not only the joy and exuberance of the players but the interpersonal relationship of the musician’s interpretation of the music. You can experience the meaning of the composer’s intention over 190 years later like you are sitting in the room with him.
Joseph Haydn was one of the most prominent composers of the classical period. Hailing from Austria, he is often called the “Father of the Symphony.”
Beethoven took Joseph Haydn’s idea of a string quartet, now a popular feature at opera and ballet performances, and turned them into a cycle of sixteen quartets.
These sixteen quartets were composed over his entire career and are some of the greatest musical stories ever told. Beethoven’s five late quartets are among the most inspirational music ever composed.
From Mortality & Meaning of Beethoven’s Late Quartet, Op. 132, May 1, 2009, by Masumi Per Rostad
“Beethoven isn’t known for including extra-musical detail in his music. Therefore, it stands out dramatically among his work that he titled the third movement “Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart.” This translates as, “Song of Thanksgiving to the Deity from a convalescent in the Lydian mode.” It is an autobiographical musical offering of a prayer of thanks after his illness. With this music, he is expressing the joy and thanks for the gift of life”
Beethoven’s Experiments and Becoming A Musical Legend
Beethoven was an experimental soul and didn’t understand why these rules existed, if he could create amazing musical experiences by breaking such rules then that’s exactly what he was going to do. Of course, there is a deliberate element of controversy to Beethoven’s decisions. He wanted the audience to wonder what he was doing. He wanted to stir a passion in his audience, to inflame and inspire.
He knew that music generates a range of emotions and so do people’s attitudes towards what makes it an art form. While we do believe Beethoven’s motivations for doing what he did are mostly based on how he felt the music would sound, like all great artists, he knew he’d need to generate a little buzz first. After all, it’s better to be notorious than unknown and composers in Beethoven’s era came and went, he has lived forever.
He later doubled down on this when he created his first ballet; The Creatures of Prometheus. It was actually the only full ballet Beethoven would ever produce, later choosing to use his composing talents on symphonies and other projects.
However, The Creatures of Prometheus was produced during a time in Beethoven’s life when he was trying his hand at different things, and purposely trying to get a reaction from his deeply religious and conservative audience. The Creatures of Prometheus did exactly that.
Beethoven’s Hearing Loss
From: Beethoven’s Deafness by Brian F. McCabe, M.D. Ann Arbor, Michigan
“Much of the greatest music which ever lifted the human spirit flowed from his pen and the most magnificent of this music Beethoven never heard.”
Various primitive ear-trumpets devised for Beethoven by Herr Mälzel in 1814
After the success of The Creatures of Prometheus, Beethoven’s rebellious streak seemingly came to an end. But not his experimental streak, his creativity would manifest in many ways and not just in relation to his composing. He had started to suffer from partial hearing loss, and this worsened over time.
By the time Beethoven had completed his groundbreaking third and fifth symphonies, he had gained international fame and established himself as one of the greatest and most influential composers of all time. But his hearing loss was damaging his confidence and a period of self-imposed exile ensued.
Insecure about his hearing loss Beethoven seemingly vanished from public life, not composing or playing the piano in public, although he continued composing in private. During this time he produced his acclaimed seventh and ninth symphonies. He also made another epic statement by composing music for his fourteenth string quartet. By 1811 Beethoven was nearly deaf in both ears but still had much more to give to the musical world.
How Can You Compose Music If You Can’t Hear?
The 18th century (and 19th for the later portion of his life) composed of symphonies that are still enjoyed all over the world to this day, and an example of musical genius in its purest form ironically suffered from hearing problems most of his life. Beethoven was musically gifted from a very young age, but the older he got the more his hearing deteriorated. By the time he entered his fifties, which was considered old age in the 1820s, Beethoven was sadly almost completely deaf. Although he didn’t let this get in the way of his composing.
Of course, being nearly deaf left Beethoven at a disadvantage, how could he compose music if he couldn’t hear what was being played? Being a musical genius Beethoven understood sound and acoustics. This is a man who was not only used to feeling the music from his piano as he played but also feeling the vibrations caused by a large orchestra.
Feeling the vibrations that came from the music all over his body, vibrations like this were just as important to him as the sound that traveled into his ears. Those of us who’ve ever been to a live music concert will understand this.
There’s something euphoric and engaging about live music that cannot be captured by listening to it any other way. And it’s not just the excitement of having the band in front of you. Bone Conduction technology captures this feeling in a way traditional headphones simply don’t match.
Innovation And Genius
Beethoven knew this too, and to take advantage of it he built himself a device that we could consider the very first pair of Bone Conduction Headphones. He needed a way to feel the sound acutely, but to do so he needed to bypass his failing ears and get the sound right into the cochlea.
It’s often been speculated that Beethoven’s hearing loss was caused by a defect affecting the inner structures of his middle ears’, but it’s impossible to know for sure. Although this would explain why Beethoven knew he needed to find a way to get sound directly to his cochlea.
The device he created was essentially a rod that he inserted into his piano, the other end went up directly to his head. Where he actually attached the end of each rod has been debated. Some reports and illustrations show him with the rod in his mouth, placed into his cheek to get as close to the cochlea as possible.
Others show the end of the rod placed behind his ear much like modern Bone Conduction headphones are today. Some reports even state Beethoven held the rod in his teeth while he played. There also doesn’t seem to be any consensus on how he attached one end to his piano or where exactly he put it.
However, despite the lack of information as to how Beethoven did this, the story has endured for nearly 200 years and others have attempted to replicate Beethoven’s designs. For us this represents the greatest and most significant milestone in the history of Bone Conduction technology, it represents the genesis of the tech, marking its transition from natural phenomenon to a man-made tool.
As Beethoven’s story is no secret, he must have been pretty open about what he was doing and why. There are no records to suggest that he ever attempted to patent or profit from his designs. Clearly, he was only ever interested in aiding his own musical pursuits, but that doesn’t mean others didn’t see the potential years later.
The Advent of Amplified Acoustics
The first electronic hearing aids were constructed after the invention of the telephone and microphone in the 1870s and 1880s.
Once amplified sound, powered by electricity was invented, only then did sound engineers start experimenting with Bone Conduction technology again. Picking up this trail originally used by Beethoven it is now clear to see the connection.
For 100 years, since Beethoven used it, there really are not many reports of Bone Conduction being used beyond audiology testing and the hearing aid industry and was minimal.
The concept of headphones or earphones at this point in history had no value to the average person as they were not available. Transmission of sound through bone conduction was not considered an option for anything other than clinical testing and hearing aids. Clearly, Beethoven was 100 years ahead of his time.
First 20th-Century Patent for Bone Conduction With an Electro-Magnetic Coil
1932 was a busy year for Bone Conduction Devices. The first 20th-century patent we found on Bone Conduction devices and long before Google Glasses was a Spectacle Frame Glasses Telephonic Device For Assisting Or Enabling Partially Deaf Persons To Hear Filed March 1, 1932, by William G G Benway below.
“If sound vibrations can be made to act on the auditory nerve or the internal car parts in such cases, hearing is possible or is reestablished. Accordingly, I have found that when a vibrating member is placed and held in contact by means of a spectacle frame with one or more bones of the head such as the mastoid temporal bone or the nasal bone, i. e., with the skin over said bones, the vibrations will be effectively transmitted or conducted through the bones of the head to the auditory nerve or internal ear, and hearing is established.”
Bone Conduction Body Hearing Aid
In 1932, Hugo Lieber, the founder of the company Sonotone, developed the B-533 Body Hearing Aid, a small bone conduction receiver advertised as the “Lieber oscillator” and was quite effective.
In 1935 an engineer named Edgar Hand, applied for a patent for a telephone handset that rather than placing a microphone into the ear of the receiver, instead of this device wrapped around the back of the user’s head. This way they could hear the vibrations from the caller’s voice as it reverberated through their skull and into their inner ear.
While there’s no clear way to know if Edgar Hand was influenced by Beethoven, his design was rather similar in intention to Beethoven’s. Perhaps great minds simply think alike, although Hand’s invention didn’t really catch on, it did open the floodgates to other inventions based on Bone Conduction technology.
Bone Conduction Technology Begins
Edgar Hand’s design was noticed by the sound engineering community, namely those responsible for designing hearing aids. In the years following Hand’s invention; numerous other patents started to be filed throughout the mid 20th century, but each of these focused on utilizing Bone Conduction technology for those with hearing problems instead of using it for telephones. It was here when the technology started to become public knowledge.
In our last article, we compared Bone Conduction technology to the internet in that it was adopted and perfected by the military, but unlike the internet, Bone Conduction technology didn’t begin life under military control. Therefore, Bone Conduction technology was something that could be used and sold by anybody, where the internet needed to be wrestled from the control of the British and American governments, there was no such concern with this technology.
In the October 10th,1940 edition of Life Magazine, There is an Ad for the Lieber Oscillator Bone Conduction Hearing Aid.
The Military’s Role
The military innovated the Bone Conduction Technolgy and the Bone Conduction Headphones we have today is thanks to that.
This was initiated in the 1950s when an engineer in the employ of the military called Clairdon E Cunningham started creating specialist helmets for fighter pilots. Using Bone Conduction to allow them to hear their orders from command over the noise of their incredibly loud engines. Fast forward 60 years and this technology had been rolled out to nearly every branch of the military.
“A helmet having an inner lining, a recessed area in said lining adjacent the forehead of the wearer thereof, and a bone conduction sensing device positioned in said recess for contacting said wearers forehead.”
Bone Conduction technology’s use in the military is arguably just as important as its use in music and as a means of helping those with hearing impairments. As with many new and innovative technologies, once the military finds something to be useful, they tend to adopt their own version of it.
Tweaking their designs over time until they get it close to perfect. While it was originally proposed by the military to assist fighter pilots to hear their instructions from the control tower, the technology has since been rolled out to ground infantry and beyond.
Creativity And Ability To Adapt During Conflict
We touched on innovation in a time of crisis’ in detail in a recent blog post, so we won’t be delving into that again here. Suffice to say that once the military has a piece of technology that they believe can save lives and make their forces more effective, they are likely to fund it and place it fairly high on their research and development agenda.
History has shown that their creativity and ability to adapt, is most high during periods of conflict. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and war has a way of creating plenty of necessities, therefore invention has a habit of flourishing. If it doesn’t then an army’s (and its homeland’s) very survival could be at stake.
Up In The Air
What is it about Bone Conduction technology that the military value so much? Well, it’s the safety the technology affords the soldiers. As we said above, initially a Bone Conduction headset allowed fighter pilots to hear their orders from the control tower. Being inside a fighter jet one of the loudest places humanity has ever ventured.
Just think how loud they are when one flies over our heads. Now imagine you’re up close to it as it flies full throttle. It’s amazing that fighter pilots don’t suffer from hearing loss themselves. This is because they wear protective ear guards, this stops the incredibly loud noise from blowing out their eardrums and causing them lasting damage in the process.
Due to this protective gear though, pilots are unable to have a microphone in their ear to hear their orders from the air traffic controller. And even if they did, the noise would be drowned out by the roar of their engines.
A Bone Conduction headsets allows them to continue to hear but through their inner ear. The technology transmits the sound directly into their cochlear, skipping the eardrum altogether. This way they can make sure they clearly hear their instructions without the sound being drowned out or risking any damage to their ears.
Boots On The Ground
These specialist headsets for pilots got noticed by the other branches of the armed forces and similar Bone Conduction headsets were made for ground troops. The principle was exactly the same. It allowed ground troops to go on missions but always have their commanding officer or base in their ear relaying instructions through a Bone Conduction headset.
As the sound traveled directing into their inner ear it reduced the risk of them mishearing orders, especially if they were in a loud environment. If under fire from an enemy the last thing an infantryman or woman wants to do is hold their headset closer to their ear and shout “can you please repeat that? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of gunfire.”
It also allows infantry to keep their ears unencumbered and free to hear potential dangers and incoming threats. A headset that covers their ears or reduces their sensory input in any way wouldn’t be safe, and risks distracting them at a time when their lives may depend on how well they can focus. We go into Bone Conduction Technology and its history with the military in much more detail in an earlier article.
Coming Full Circle
In the 1980s another clever soul had an idea how Bone Conduction technology could aid the average person. Like Beethoven, this inventor James Liautaud was influenced by music. His idea was to create a Bone Conduction device that allowed people to listen to the radio or cassette tapes while they were on the go. Of course, by this time the Walkman already existed, but Liautaud wanted to create a set of headphones that worked a little differently and allowed those doing certain tasks (that required focus) to still be able to listen to their chosen audio.
James Liautaud Bone Conduction Patent 3-30-82
This idea was taken further in the 1990s by inventor H. Werner Bottesh. Bottesh is arguably the person responsible for today’s modern Bone Conduction headphones. Simplifying and perfecting the design. His innovation, along with Liautaud’s and the military’s own improvements have all led to the Bone Conduction headphones we know today.
One of The Fathers of Bone Conduction Technology
Lots of different inventions have a figurative parent. The father of, or the mother of, etc. We’ve realized that Bone Conduction technology doesn’t officially have anybody in history who’s been given this title.
Bone Conduction technology is the brainchild of many brilliant people over the years, each providing their own creativity, influence, and insight. From the military, audio engineers for the deaf, the music industry, or any of the men named above, Bone Conduction technology has been shaped by many hands into the gadgets we know today.
Ludwig van Beethoven himself is one of the Fathers of Bone Conduction Technology. The fact that Beethoven used it as a method to hear the music better out of necessity, no matter how rudimentary is extremely important.
Bone Conduction technology is going to break out and become the next big thing in audio technology at some point in the near future, helping lots of people listen to music and audio in a new way. So it’s fitting that this is exactly what the first user of Bone Conduction technology used it for.
As a man who suffered from deafness, Beethoven can also claim to be the father of the technology from this point of view too. Before it was used to listen to music, Bone Conduction technology revolutionized hearing aid technology. So the music industry or at least the electronic companies who create headphones for it, and those who study or create hearing aids to help those with hearing impairments; both have Ludwig van, Beethoven, to thank for Bone Conduction technology.
Just like it did when he was sat at his piano fumbling with rods that could carry the sound, Bone Conduction technology was always intended to help a deaf person hear music. Today it helps deaf people all over the world, not just hear music, but hear everything. And for the rest of us, it’s helped us hear music and other audio in new and life-changing ways.
Through Beethoven, Bone Conduction technology started out life as one man’s method to hear the music better than before, it’s funny then to think that today; this is the primary purpose of Bone Conduction technology.
Through all it’s fascinating uses and advancements, from helping those with hearing impairments to keeping our servicemen and women safe, Bone conduction technology has come back to the music. And that this is what the average person now uses it for. It started with a symphony and it continues through them all.