ENGAGE: Computing music to my ears

McMaster's LIVElabs demonstrates performance technology
Advanced computing is permeating all areas of research.

This past week, I drove my eldest daughter, Nadia, to Western University to begin her first year at the Don Wright Faculty of Music.  It was a bittersweet trip.  While I’m thrilled she will be getting a post-secondary education, my “baby” is leaving home (Yes sweetheart, even when you turn 60, I will refer to you as my “baby”).  Compute Ontario’s board chair, Dr. Mark Daley, is the Associate Vice President of Research at Western University and I have many friends and colleagues at SHARCNET (one of our partner consortia) also located there.  Therefore, I will have many opportunities to visit her on campus and perhaps Dad can take his girl to dinner once in a while.

Nadia has a beautiful voice. Trained at the Royal Conservatory of Music, she also plays piano and guitar and was a member of her high school choir that won the Canadian Championships this year.  She excelled in her studies, graduating summa cum laude, received numerous scholarships and the Lieutenant Governor General’s award for community service. I’m one very proud Papa–and thankful she takes after her Mom.

On the long drive home, I wondered whether my work could relate to her studies in order to give us topics for common conversation.  As I’ve heard through my consultations, advanced computing and the supporting digital infrastructure is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and essential across research disciplines – even among those not usually associated with technology.

LIVElab, McMaster
LIVElab at McMaster

Sure enough, on a recent visit with the Vice Chair of my Board, Ranil Sonnadara, at McMaster University, I got a tour of their LIVELab.  The LIVE (Large Interactive Virtual Environment) Lab is a unique 106-seat research performance hall designed to investigate the experience of music, dance, multimedia presentations, and human interaction. The space includes Active Acoustic ControlSound Recording Equipment; and measurement of behavioural responses (96 tablets), movement (motion capture), brain responses (EEG), muscle tension (EMG), heart rate, breathing rate, and sweating responses (GSR).

This remarkable facility advances our neuroscientific understanding of how performers interact, what moves audiences during a performance, and the cognitive, social and emotional impact of these experiences.  It incorporates technology and real-time audience feedback into creative performances. It helps researchers develop and evaluate new technologies for health (such as hearing aids or dance therapy for those with Parkinson’s disease) and artistic expression.

LIVElab audience, McMaster
Evaluating audience response to performance

The possibilities are endless when we consider that, through this lab, we can conduct neuroscientific evaluations of human responses (applied to market research and defining important aspects of culture) and what makes for successful human interactions (for use in educational techniques and group problem solving).

Research in the LIVELab is “aimed both at theoretical understanding and applications to business, health, education public policy, and artistic creation”. In this way, as advanced research computing enables the measurement and analysis of the neuroscientific impact of sound on audiences, it is supporting the innovation economy in Ontario. And, maybe just importantly, proving once and for all that it’s not just my wife and I who are moved by my daughter’s performances!