Music For Bionic Ears: One Sight, Two Sounds

Wednesday 3 November 2010

There was a little segment about the Music For Bionic Ears project on Australian TV recently, which can be watched online. (I can see it in the UK, so I guess everyone can.)

I’ve uploaded two of the studies I’ve made for the project for you to listen to, working with the 16-tone tuning system.
Bionic Ear Study No. 1
Bionic Ear Study No. 2

Study No. 1 was made by filtering white noise into the 22 frequency bands used in the design of a cochlear implant. This was done using a filtered granular synthesis contraption in AudioMulch. The filtered sounds produced were mimicked by a (virtual) piano, retuned to the 16-tone scale. The sounds you can hear in the study are a mix of the white noise, the piano, and either or both sounds reproduced through the cochlear implant simulator devised by Robin Fox.

Study No. 2 examines the various harmonies that can be produced with the scale. Using only one instrument (electric organ), a sequence of chords and single tones are played in a variable rhythm. Certain pitches, with frequencies that straddled a pair of electrodes, were shifted up or down an octave. This sequence was fed back into the same AudioMulch filter used in Study No. 1, which plays back differing amounts of the original and filtered organ.

What next? Study No. 1 is very rudimentary and serves as a preliminary map of the type of soundworld I am dealing with. Study No. 2 was a demonstration of harmonic combinations that are possible. In the latter piece, I suspect that the combination of chords used and the organ sound will come across as too cluttered in the more rigidly-defined sound structure of the implants. The piece I am working on now uses the following principles:

  • Implant wearers report being able to understand speech very well. I’m using a speaking voice as a sort of key, or guide, to the music. This includes filtering and processing the voice in different ways, and deriving melody and rhythm from speech patterns.
  • Using lighter instrumental timbres with simpler sounds.
  • Building textures that sound active, without becoming dense.