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Communicating Auditory Impairments Using Electroacoustic Composition

Cunningham, Stuart (2019) Communicating Auditory Impairments Using Electroacoustic Composition. In: Proceedings of EVA London 2019, 08 July 2019 - 11 July 2019, London, UK.

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Abstract

Changes in human sensory perception can occur for a variety of reasons. In the case of distortions or transformations in the human auditory system, the aetiology may include factors such as medical conditions affecting cognition or physiology, interaction of the ears with mechanical waves, or stem from chemically induced sources, such the consumption of alcohol. These changes may be permanent, intermittent, or temporary. In order to communicate such effects to an audience in an accessible, and easily understood manner, a series of electroacoustic compositions were produced. This concept follows on from previous work on the theme of representing auditory hallucinations. Specifically, these compositions relate to auditory impairments that humans can experience due to tinnitus or through the consumption of alcohol. In the case of tinnitus, whilst much is known about the causes and symptoms, the experience of what it is like to live with tinnitus is less explored and those who have acquired the condition may often feel frustration when trying to convey the experience of ‘what it is like’ for them. In terms of impairment from alcohol consumption, whilst there is much hearsay, little research exists on the immediate and short-term effects of alcohol consumption on the human auditory system, despite over half of the UK population reported as consuming alcohol in 2017. The methodology employed to design these compositions draws upon scientific research findings, including experimental and explorative studies involving human participants, coupled with electroacoustic composition techniques. The pieces are typically constructed by mixing field recordings with synthesised materials and incorporating a range of temporal and frequency domain manipulations to the elements therein. In this way, the listener is able to experience the phenomenon in a recognisable context, where distortions of reality can be emulated to varying degrees. It is intended that these compositions can serve as easily accessible and understood examples of auditory impairments and that they might find utility in the communication of symptoms to those who have never experienced the underlying causes or conditions. This presents opportunities for pieces like these to be used in scenarios such as education and public health awareness campaigns.

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