Boom, Turn It Up! – Public engagement with acoustics research

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Research carried out by Duncan Williams, Senior Lecturer in Acoustics & Audio Engineering has been featured in two high profile public exhibitions that explore how sound and music impact or everyday lives.

As part of Boom: Experiments in Sound at The National Science and Media Museum in Bradford Duncan presented ‘Machine Listener’ as part of an exhibition where you could experience the sensation of sound, learn how it shapes our everyday lives, and follow the journey of a soundwave. Along the way, there were lots of opportunities for you to stop and listen, then manipulate and play with sound. The exhibition attracted 150,000 visitors.

Sound is all around us, every day. Even when you think it’s quiet, it’s not completely silent.

Machine Listener

The colours and shapes in the robot brain are created from electroencephalograph (EEG) recordings of human brain activity when listening to a noisy urban soundscape and the sound of a quieter, green space. Sensors were placed lightly on the scalp to capture electrical activity in the brain and these recordings were used to train a machine learning algorithm. The algorithm responds to different acoustic features and predicts the likely brain activity that new acoustic environments might create.

Using the headphones, visitors were able to hear what the machine is listening to and create the predicted brain activity you are seeing.

Most recently the work was show at Turn it Up! The Power of Music, a hands on, ears open exhibition at Manchester Science Museum exploring the science of music’s mysterious hold over us and how it drives us to create, perform, feel and share. The exhibition explored how technological advancements continue to push the limits of music and make playing music more accessible for everyone.

At the Late-night event as part of the exhibition the same technology was deployed to use the brain activity to create a musical feedback loop for automatic music generation, Your Brain as DJ?

After a hugely popular run in Manchester, Turn it Up: The Power of Music will be exhibited at Science Museum in London from this autumn where the work will reach even more people allowing them to explore how music shapes their lives.

Find out more here: Music Lates | Science Museum