Tattoos you can "hear" are thing now, and we may see more body tech experimentation soon

Would you get a tattoo that lets you play back the sound of your love’s voice forever?

Would you get a tattoo that lets you play back the sound of your love’s voice forever?

(Source: Instagram, @natesiggard)

Imagine this: a tattoo that holds the recorded sound of your mom's voice, your dog's bark or your baby's cooing, inked on your body for you to listen to forever.

It's possible, according to American artist Nate Siggard.

In April, Siggard and his girlfriend came up with the concept of creating tattoos that people could listen to. Turning the concept into reality – or, augmented reality – he created an app called Skin Motion to create Soundwave Tattoos, an image of a soundwave that is generated from an uploaded audio file up to one-minute long. The image is then given to a tattoo artist trained to use the technology, who inks it permanently on skin. Then, whenever the tattooed person wants to hear their tattoo, they open the app, point it at the tattoo and play back the audio.

"Soundwave Tattoos are a brand new way to express yourself using art and technology," reads a blurb on the Skin Motion website. "What is more personal, more permanent, and more meaningful than a tattoo? A tattoo you can play back."

Sounds cool. But it's not actually a high-tech concept, said Toronto tech expert Avery Swartz.

"The tattoo itself is not auditory," said Swartz. "The tattoo is a visual representation of a piece of audio."

Hypothetically, you could sync an audio file to any tattoo image – not just a soundwave – hover your phone camera over the image and play back the audio using similar technology, she said.

Still, Swartz admits the idea of tattooing a loved one's voice on your body is a nice one.

In an email response to criticism that the technology is not sophisticated, Siggard's girlfriend, Juliana, wrote: "Skin Motion's first product is Soundwave Tattoos. We have built the platform with the intention to quickly utilize it as a solution for a wide variety of applications."

Some tech experts say regardless of the level of technology involved, Soundwave Tattoos are part of a burgeoning trend of bio wearable technology.

"I think we're going to see more and more of this, where people are comfortable really experimenting with technology in their bodies – whether it's on their bodies or potentially chips in their bodies," said Amber Mac, a technology expert in Toronto.

Mac said the field of biohacking, meaning using technology to improve our health or how we live, is set to explode, with advances particularly on the healthcare front. Whereas this technology once meant Fitbits tracking step, in the future it's likely to mean implanted chips that can monitor everything from blood pressure to iron levels, she said.

Indeed, scientists are currently studying how temporary "electric tattoos," thin devices made from electrodes and polymer coating, applied to the skin, can aid in everything from psychological evaluations to diagnosing Parkinson's disease.

As for those who want their own permanent Soundwave Tattoo, you'll have to wait until June, when the app launches.

Until then, tattoos remain old-fashioned: soundless.

Katrina Clarke is a Vancouver- and Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. You can find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.


Katrina Clarke is a multimedia journalist based in Fredericton who received the 2018 Gordon Sinclair Roving Reporter Bursary. The Gordon Sinclair Roving Reporter Bursary is awarded annually to an early career journalist and funds a reporting project focused on an underreported issue in Canada or abroad. Follow Katrina on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.