One week to go!

A few updates on INTERIOR DESIGN: Music for the Bionic Ear.

1) BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW! There are two shows next Sunday, and the early one has actually selling quite fast over the last few days. Tickets are $25/$15 concession, and are available from the Arts Centre website ( or by calling the Arts Centre on 1800 182 183.

2) Listening to brand new, hot of the press music is FUN, and a privilege! I’ve been listening to various sketches, snippets and samples of the music the composers in the project have been coming up with, and it’s an amazing experience. Only a very few other people have ever hear the work, and had a chance to follow the thoughts that arise from listening. One of the pieces has even got a bit stuck in my head!
Here’s Natasha Anderson in her studio playing back a demo version of her work. This one will be a mix of instrumental and spatialised electro-acoustic playback.

3) The program is almost finalised, and will be printed on Monday. Each of the composers has written a page on their work – it’s fascinating reading, and we hope that we might be able to expand it into a short book format or some other kind of publication after the concert. The project is interesting from a musicological point of view as well as from a hearing perspective, it would be interesting to bring these two fields together somehow, and really consider the nature of hearing itself and how that affects music composition. That’s for another time though.

4) Ben Harper has just updated his website, with audio links available to some of the studies that have led up to his final work. He gives a good history of his involvement in the project as well, and how his thinking has changed throughout.

5) Listen in to Delivery on RRR from 5:10 on Sunday afternoon for an interview with James Rushford and I. No idea what we’ll be talking about. Moon phases perhaps. RRR is 102.7 FM in Melbourne. Call us and ask questions!

6) We’re hopefully gong to be sitting in on one of the Speak Percussion rehearsals next week. That should be fascinating too. Hopefully I’ll be able to take some pictures (camera might be too loud or distracting though, not sure if I’ll be able to)!

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    Some non-concert-related news! On the way to work recently there has been a new sound – some frogs in a pond. The pond is quite large, and the frogs must be scattered around the edge, because there is this cool effect where it sounds almost like a single frog is speeding around the edge of the pond ribbiting as he goes.

    Might sound best with headphones. And sorry about all the traffic noise, it’s quite near a busy road, and also and handling noise/footsteps, as I was being attacked by angry birds and had to keep dodging them…

    And here is where the pond is (it looks very brown in this satellite image!)
    View Larger Map

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    Listening to music with a hearing loss – blog post on Australia Hears website

    Over the summer holidays I wrote a short blog article for the Australia Hears blog.  It’s all about listening to music with a hearing loss, and the possibility of finding new types of music, and new types of listening.

    Read it here!

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    Concert preparations

    Well, a very belated and happy new year!

    Since coming back from holidays (back on the 4th of Jan!) it seems like life and work has been in a constant whirlwind. A bit part of the whirlwind is the preparations for the concert. In case you haven’t been spammed to death about the concert already, we’re holding a concert, on Sunday Feb 13th, where the music has been specially designed by six composers, for listening through a cochlear implant.

    The composers are composing, the venue and technical people are busying about with tickets and cables, and here at the BEI it’s a little bit like promotion central at the moment. One of the hardest things to organise with this concert is actually getting the word out to cochlear implant and hearing aid users that it’s happening! We’re lucky that we’ve somehow managed to get a fair bit of publicity already, but it’s mostly not targeted to the hearing impaired community.

    However, we have been speaking to Better Hearing Australia and VicDeaf who are both great organisations serving the hearing-impaired community, and they have both put the event up on their calendars etc.

    SO, if you’re reading this and are hearing-impaired, or know anyone who is, please come!!!

    The details are in a PDF flyer which you can download from this LINK.



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    Why do we hate modern music?

    In The Age A2 section thismorning there’s a really interesting article by Alex Ross (he wrote a great book called “The Rest is Noise in 2007) called “The schock of the dissonant.” I couldn’t find a link on The Age’s site, but the original article (titled “Why we hate modern music” was published in The Guardian a few weeks ago.

    As you can probably guess by the titles, it’s about the interesting fact that generally speaking, modern music is a VERY difficult sell to most audiences. Why is it that “new” and “exciting” visual arts, or even dance, are embraced by the public, but when you apply the same adjectives to new music, the reaction is more likely to be one of suspicion, caution, or even anger? People still, to this day, pay money to attend, and then walk out of performances of contemporary classical works. I guess people are sometimes mystified by some contemporary visual arts works, but rarely would a show at ACCA, for example, cause people to actually get angry (the Turner Prize-winning show by English artist Martin Creed, where the work consisted of nothing except the lights in the gallery switching on and off every 5 seconds is a possible exception.)

    It’s a very interesting read, and full of links to musical and video examples of the works he discusses, as well as scientific articles on the topic! These issues are of interest to us working on improving music appreciation for CI users, because one of the main complaints people have, if they lose their hearing later in life and subsequently get a CI, is that music “will never sound the same again…” In other words, they are understandably hoping to re-discover the familiar music they loved before they lost their hearing.  Some people get discouraged, and avoid music completely once they start to think that music “might never sound the same again.” Others, on the other hand, start to explore different types of music, and discover that although the sounds are new and unfamiliar, they can still find enjoyment once they explore this new musical space. One CI user we were talking to a few weeks ago said that although he grew up loving Hyden, Mozart, and all the 18th century classical composers, he now enjoys hip-hop and rock with his CI, which he probably would have disliked with natural hearing. The classical music is still disappointing, but he’s found a new genre of music that he does enjoy.

    Another reason the article is interesting is because it relates to the work we’re doing with composers (and which I will be endlessly plugging as it gets closer to the performance date – sorry). In this project, the composers are writing new music designed specifically for the hearing impaired and CI users. Of course we’re hoping that our audience is going to enjoy the new work. However, before we even start, there’s the issue of the newness itself. New music, generally speaking, is not popular with general audiences. This is all a big generalisation with lots of exceptions, but people, for unknown reasons, generally don’t enjoy new music they way they enjoy new visual arts. So enjoyment is almost a secondary aim. Our first aim is that the audience will be able to appreciate the works – to be able to hear them, assess them, and for the punters to be able to decide, without fear that they’re hearing things somehow wrong, whether they like, or dislike, the works. In some perverse way, if people walk out of this show, because they’ve decided on the basis of what they heard that they hate the works, it will be a sort of success. I don’t think this is going to happen on the night though, on the basis of what I’ve heard so far, I think the audience will hear, assess, and then decide to stay to the end!

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    Very exciting: tickets for “INTERIOR DESIGN: Music for the Bionic Ear” are on sale NOW, through the Arts Centre website.  Tickets are $25/$15 concession, and there are two performances, at 5:30PM and 8PM on Sunday the 13th of Feb 2011.

    Tickets are already selling from the Arts Centre website!

    Robin Fox, the lead composer working on the project, spoke a little about the project last night on ABC Classic FM, on the “New Music Up Late” show with Julian Day.  You can hear the whole interview on the ABC Classics website here:

    Look for the entry for Saturday the 11th, or try this direct link:

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    Hello from Osaka!

    Hello from Osaka Japan! I’m on holiday at the moment, but I was visiting the Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary art today, and there was this sculpture in the front courtyard. I thought it looked a bit like the spiral shape of a cochlea, but I’m not sure what the spiky things are!

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    Grant Success

    We are very pleased to announced that we have been successful in a NHMRC project grant starting in January 2011.

    Here is the synopsis of the application.

    Music perception is one of the most often-cited problems for people with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Part of the problem is related to the reduced ability to hear different instruments or melodic lines separately. This ability is based on perceptual differences between auditory streams. Psychophysics experiments will be performed to understand the effect of different acoustic parameters on auditory streaming. A  innovative approach to restore music appreciation will be tested on people with impaired hearing.

    This good news will help us moving forward in our research.

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    More meetings between composers and CI recipients.

    This Monday we had the second round of meetings between the group of composers working on the “INTERIOR DESIGN” project and a group of cochlear implant recipients who are “road-testing” musical material.

    The aim of these meetings is basically to help the composers establish a musical palette they can use in their compositions. One of the things we know for certain is that the standard “palette” of sounds used in most music today doesn’t translate well through a cochlear implant. Harmonies constructed using the standard 12-note scale, for instance, cannot be relied upon to produce the same perception of major and minor tonality that someone with normal hearing experiences.

    One of the main points of discussion was again loudness and dynamic range. As the perception of musical pitch is not well understood in cochlear implant recipients, it’s likely that the composers will be using other cues, such as loudness and timbrel changes, heavily in their works. There was thus alot of discussion about how best to ensure that quiet sounds sound quiet, and loud sounds sound loud.

    We set up three seperate sound booths, and played a game of musical chairs, with each CI listener going into each sound booth to hear and report on what they heard. James Rushford brought his viola, and was experimenting with how various combinations of pitch and timbre were perceived. By preparing strings with small dots of bluetack, the higher harmonics were reduced, and this seemed to increase the ability of the listener to distinguish between closely-spaced pitches.

    Ben Harper, who’s also writing about his experiences in the project on his blog here, has developed a new tuning system based on the 22 channels in a standard cochlear implant sound processor. Most of the CI listeners we had in on Monday seemed to really like this tuning system, reporting that it sounded harmonious or pleasant.

    Natasha Anderson and Rohan Drape were in the last booth. Natasha brought in her laptop and pro tools setup, and played back a variety of sampled and synthesised sounds. These ranged from spacey echo-ey sounds, to strong rhythmic beats and quite raucous noise. This variety sparked off a “what is music” type discussion – a pretty fascinating development which we weren’t expecting. It’s a good sign – we’re hoping that CI users, musicians, and normal-hearing music lovers can start to have a dialogue – these kinds of discussions show that at some level, musical communication is it least occurring! Rohan had prepared some visual diagrams to go along with a score – I think this is also an interesting approach, and something that we’re testing in the lab as well!

    More reports as it comes!

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    New Music for the Bionic Ear, on TV!

    Check out ART NATION tonight at 7pm on ABC2 (it also screened at 5:30 on ABC but I forgot!), for a short segment on what we’ve been up to recently.

    You can also watch it online right now here:

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