Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Science meets art

The British early music ensemble called The Clerks has participated in a scientific experimentation about listening, and more specifically the cocktail party syndrome; focusing on one voice over a mass of sound (http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/oct/01/experiments-listening-hearing-voice). The group is specialized in medieval polyphonic music in which different texts are sung at the same time. Edward Wickham, the leader of the ensemble, has always wondered how the audience perceives and processes the texts.

To find out, a suitable test was found in the aviation industry. The test is normally used to check if the air traffic controllers are able to separate the multiple sounds heard simultaneously.  Composer Christopher Fox designed it into musical form; a piece that included six voices speaking and singing at the same time. At the concert, the audience was given a keypad to first write down the final word sung by the singer they chose to follow. Then the challenge was to hear what word was being said against a background noise. The article does not reveal any results of the experimentation yet since the series of concerts with the test has just started.

I would like to see more collaboration between science and music. I think it would open doors to allow music to be used in new ways, for example, in therapeutic way or reinforcing learning. There is already some scientific research done on the positive effects of music in life, and doing it more would perhaps help (classical) music maintain a more solid position in the society with its benefits. This examination has been sponsored by the Wellcome Trust that encourages cooperation between artists and scientists, and I hope these kind of organizations continue to exist in the future.

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