Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center have published a paper titled “Music Engineering as a Novel Strategy for Enhancing Music Enjoyment in the Cochlea Implant Recipient” which shows that apart from creating implants to help people with hearing loss hear and understand speech, cochlea implant could also help them understand and enjoy music. The study is published in the journal Behavioural Neurology.
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While it is true that hearing aids help people with auditory challenges to hear amplified sounds and speech, the same cannot be said for music.
But the Columbia’s Cochlea Implant Music Engineering Group has made cochlea implants that processes music distinctly for the enjoyment of people with hearing disabilities.
“I’ve had the implant for 15 years now and it has done so much for me. Before I got the implant, I was working but I could not use a phone, I needed somebody to take notes for me at meetings, and I couldn’t have conversations with more than one person,” said Prudence Garcia-Renart, a musician who stopped playing piano several years back.
“I can now use a phone, I recognize people’s voices, I go to films, but music is awful,” Garcia-Renart said.
Since people with hearing loss no longer possess auditory neurons that send signals to the brain, it is difficult for researchers to modify the settings of the cochlea implant to cover for lost neurons, said Dr. Anil Lalwani, director of the Columbia Cochlea Implant Program. “It’s unrealistic to expect people with that kind of nerve loss to process the complexity of a symphony, even with an implant.”
With the efforts of the cochlea implant music engineering group, the team is now trying to make music simpler in a reengineered manner that make people with implants to enjoy not necessarily the entire music piece, but sometimes the vocals or the instruments where a song has very complex layers.
The cochlea implant group is now testing various music arrangements to determine the aspect that listeners with impairments would enjoy. Dr. Lalwani noted that the group is trying to learn how different people listen to music since even people with normal hearing hear differently.
Dr. Lalwani is however of the opinion that software might be deployed to reconfigure music for listeners or enable them to engineer their own music for their own listening pleasure.
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“Our eventual goal, though, is to compose music for people with cochlear implants based on what we’ve learned,” Dr. Lalwani said. “Original pieces of music that will possibly have less rhythmic instruments, less reverb, possibly more vocals—something that is actually designed for them.”