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Meet Ethan Castro of EDGE Sound Research in Riverside/Inland Empire

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ethan Castro.

Ethan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am a PhD Student in Music – Digital Composition at UC Riverside, and CTO/Co-Founder of EDGE Sound Research. I have invented a system, using technology that translates sound into vibrations that enhance communication with the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing and those with intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. It also makes music a pretty badass experience.

I became hard-of-hearing at a very young age. My doctor told me once I grew up “As long as you don’t go into music, you’ll be fine.”

Oops.

Like every obedient child, I ran directly opposite to what I had just been told and began my love affair with music and sound and 15 years later, I’ve become a professional studio and live sound mixing engineer and music producer where hearing is kinda a big deal.

So how have I been doing it? Well, after years in speech therapy and lip reading training, I’ve also been remapping my brain to become more dependent on *listening through touch*.

In high-school, I would watch days of YouTube speeches, word pronunciations, and music, and pass the audio through my analyzers for music, and watch which frequencies peaked when people said certain parts of words. I would watch the waveforms when people would say “pa, ma, da, ta”. And all the while, I was lightly touching my studio monitors and feeling the drivers vibrate against my fingertips. Because of this, I was able to hear things that no one else was able to – I began to feel pressure from small sounds, even in the frequencies I was tested to have lost.

If this helped me, it could help others too.

When I came to UC Riverside to pursue my PhD, my adviser, Dr. Paulo Chagas allowed me to research tactile transducers or speaker components that translate sound into vibrations. These are the most direct way to get a signal – like your favorite song – into your body. I obsessed over these and made the first demonstration of loudspeakers that used this technology by sticking them onto some panels of wood – which sounded surprisingly amazing.

So I went crazy. I put transducers on EVERYTHING. I think I ruined a couple of guitars along the way, quite a bit of drywall, and in a curious case of experimentation with bass-shakers – triggered an earthquake warning for my neighbors.

My craze attracted three amazing engineers and a very talented MBA student (my co-founder Valtteri Salomaki) to join forces and create truly amazing experiences such as a chair where you can feel every sound from the rumble of a far-away explosion, to the clink of bullet casings hitting the floor.

We formed a startup and presented this technology at CES 2020, found many collaborators at NAMM (which is CES but for music), and even presented for UCR Office of Technology Partnership’s Proof of Concept grant at the end of 2019. We have garnered support from OTP, and they have been mentoring us through a meteoric rise of excitement around our venture and this technology and helped us to become patent-pending.

We are applying to grants like crazy to fuel our hyper-speed rate of prototyping, aiming for entrance into our first accelerator by this summer. Most importantly, we’re collaborating with specialists to ensure that at the end of the day, each of our devices, while amazing and immersive for entertainment, helps people like me communicate just a little bit better.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Making a game-changing technology is always a challenge-free smooth ride. Jk – could you imagine?

No, we have had our share of issues and drawbacks, especially since we’re one of the first humanities-driven teams that the inland empire has seen push their way into the tech startup realm.

The school was not prepared for a humanities grad student startup since it almost never happens, and so my PI (primary investigator – basically my advisor for my dissertation) and I struggled to find the proper channels to properly raise our project through the administration, causing us to lose a $25k grant at the last minute.

On my side, because of my tactics described to assist my hearing difficulties, most people don’t believe that I have a significant hearing loss. Just ask my wife, she’ll tell you about her experience with yelling at me from 10 feet away and if I’m not reading her lips, it’s hopeless!

Please tell us about EDGE Sound Research.
EDGE Sound Research is the sonic-experience division of the parent company EDGE Original Inc., focusing on creating immersive systems that will elevate the entertainment experience to the next level.

Keep up to date at www.edgesoundresearch.com.

My work with the mother company, EDGE Original Inc. is known for stellar attention to sonic detail – using research and experimentation, over a decade of media production experience, and strategic partnerships to bring forth unique and bespoke experiences.

Check out www.edgeoriginal.com for examples and links to divisions.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I fell in love with sound early on. My folks were Madonna and New Order fans, and my father appreciated nice speakers. I remember laying down next to the subwoofer and feeling the bass and drums travel through the floor across my body. It was the only time I felt truly connected to the music. As this love affair with sound continued into music production, I started to use different speakers as studio monitors, including a small coaxial speaker that I would place under my seat, facing up, so I could feel what I thought I was hearing. After buying proper studio monitors, I would still find myself touching the speaker cones instead of relying on my ears, something about the direct transmission of audio resonated with me as the difference between wi-fi and hard-wired ethernet.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Alex Taylor, James Ramirez, Ethan Castro, Ixel Castro, Desiree Castro, Keith Hussein, Andrew Europa

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