Hearing is not for the ears only
4 December 2008
Links: Listen to 'The Scientist and the Musician' on the
David McAlpine, Professor of Auditory Neuroscience and Director of the UCL Ear Institute, has taken part in an audio programme with renowned deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie for HearHere!, a joint venture by the Royal Philharmonic Society and Classic FM.
In the 'The Scientist and the Musician', Professor McAlpine and Dame Evelyn discuss what 'listening' means to them, what is needed to listen effectively, how society is affecting our hearing, and the current state of hearing research.
The discussion forms part of this month's programme for 'HearHere!', the UK's first classical music project dedicated to the subject of listening, a joint venture by the Royal Philharmonic Society and Classic FM. The UCL Ear Institute has been providing scientific support for HearHere! since January 2008, including presenting the scientific perspective during monthly discussions about various aspects of listening.
Professor David McAlpine says: "I was enthusiastic about working with the project when we were approached by the Royal Philharmonic Society because the themes of listening and hearing fit very well with the institute's own research priorities. I suggested the additional theme of loss of hearing for the project, to expand awareness of how this affects people's relationship with music."
His own research interests include investigations into brain mechanisms for spatial hearing and detecting sounds in noisy environments. He believes that "a major challenge for hearing research over the next decade will be to improve the performance of cochlear implant devices. Implant users continue to struggle to pick up speech in noisy environments such as pubs or city streets, and future research in this field should aim to understand how best to match the electronic signals of a cochlear implant with the brain's requirements for listening in noise".
Agreeing with Dame Evelyn's statement during this month's discussion, that, when listening, "you use your whole body as a resonating chamber", Professor McAlpine said: "My view of hearing is that you hear with your brain, not [only] with your ears. … Your brain does a lot of filling in of the information that you [otherwise] don't get." This is particularly significant when it comes to cochlear implants, since it means that scientists are not bound by the limits of the ear, but can take factors relating to the brain's role in the hearing process into account when designing such implants.
To listen to the podcast, or to find out more about the UCL Ear Institute and HearHere!, follow the links at the top of this page.
HearHere! aims to promote the art and science of listening in a culture that is increasingly visually dominated. The project comprises several strands, including a programme of broadcast and live concerts and events across the UK. As part of the project, the UCL Ear Institute teamed up with Deafness Research UK to offer virtual tours of the ear via a multimedia roadshow which has visited schools, concert halls and community centres around the country, and has also designed sound demos to give an insight into the very different way that people with cochlear implants hear music.
The UCL Ear Institute
The Institute is the largest and most broadly based academic unit for research into hearing and deafness in the UK. In addition to the expertise of its internationally renowned researchers, its teaching programmes also draw on the knowledge of dedicated lecturers in Audiology. Within UCL, it collaborates with the UCL Centre for Human Communication, UCL Neuroscience, UCL Physiology and UCL Pharmacology. It also works closely with its external partners, the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, Deafness Research UK.