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Interactive performance for musicians with a hearing impairment

Fulford, Robert James (2013) Interactive performance for musicians with a hearing impairment. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

How can we perceive music if we cannot hear it properly? The achievements of deaf musicians suggest it is possible not only to perceive music, but to perform with other musicians. Yet very little research exists to explain how this is possible. This thesis addresses this problem and explores the premise that vibrations felt on the skin may facilitate interactive music making. An initial interview study found that, while vibrations are sometimes perceived, it is predominantly the use of visual and physical cues that are relied upon in group performance to help stay in time and in tune with other players. The findings informed the design of two observation studies exploring the effects of i) artificial attenuation of auditory information and ii) natural deafness on performance behaviours. It was shown that profound congenital deafness affected the players’ movements and their gazes/glances towards each other while mild or moderate levels of attenuation or deafness did not. Nonetheless, all players, regardless of hearing level, reciprocated the behaviours of co-performers suggesting the influence of social factors benefitting verbal and non-verbal communication between players. Finally, a series of three psychophysical experiments was designed to explore the perception of pitch on the skin using vibrations. The first study found that vibrotactile detection thresholds were not affected by hearing impairments. The second established that the relative pitches of intervals larger than a major 6th were easy to discriminate, but this was not possible for semitones. The third showed that tones an octave apart could be memorised and identified accurately, but were confused when less than a perfect 4th apart. The thesis concludes by evaluating the potential of vibrotactile technology to facilitate interactive performance for musicians with hearing impairments. By considering the psychophysical, behavioural and qualitative data together, it is suggested that signal processing strategies in vibrotactile technology should take social, cognitive and perceptual factors into account.

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