The seed of the idea for my #DM20 commission came during a conversation in a music workshop with a girl who used cochlear implants. We were working on a project with Create and Sense UK, and she was expressing her displeasure at the sound her sister was making with a Tibetan singing bowl: “I like all music, but I don’t like that!” was her basic message. It seemed the reason for this had something to do with the way her implants were processing the harmonics of the singing bowl. They appeared to be amplifying the ‘wrong’ frequencies too much, creating distortion and a kind of white noise.
I went home and did a bit of research, learning that ‘cochlear implants typically have between only 4 and 22 electrodes, less than 1% of the number of hairs present in the cochlea(1)’, that the relative success of the implant procedure can affect the amount of background noise a user hears and that, crucially, implants are optimised to recognise speech rather than sound (and therefore music) in general.
That in turn got me thinking about hearing aids, and remembering my grandfather, whose ear drums burst when he stood too close to an artillery gun in the army (so the family story went). He had trouble hearing what people were saying even with his hearing aids, but loved listening to Radio 3 (very loudly) in his study. These two juxtaposing observations, as well as an intensive set of workshops with a group of deafblind young people, said two things to me (that are obvious yet worth mentioning): 1. that all deaf/hard of hearing people ‘hear’ music in different ways, and that the technology they use is atranslator of sound that, like any translator, add its own nuances, accentuations and annoyances. 2. An exploration of this could be the basis for a interesting and potentially very strong piece of music.
So here we go…