Shane Myrbeck

Harmonious Research: Music and Technology

Text by Melanie Picard

A Bay Area SoundLab could make it possible to enjoy San Francisco’s Opera House acoustics in your living room, and improve research on music and emotion being conducted in Switzerland.

Arup SoundLab

Arup SoundLab TM

ARUP, a global engineering firm and leader in acoustic consulting is taking up this challenge at its San Francisco SoundLab. By using an extensive library of recorded sounds, experts are able to simulate the acoustics of a variety of locations and environments—all in the same room. Any sound can be played through surround-sound systems, and projected computer renderings can create any environment.

Their technology is the perfect complement to scientist Eduardo Coutinho’s research on the expression of emotion in the acoustic domain. Coutinho is a postdoctoral fellow at the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences investigating how the different acoustic properties of the music you hear influence the emotions you feel.

This study, discussed during the Geneva Colloquium on Music and Emotion last November, is based on two stages, empirical and computational. In the first stage, people are asked to rate the emotions they perceive while listening to various pieces of music. Through the computational stage, Coutinho developed an emotion recognition system that can predict what a person will perceive (and in certain circumstances feel) for a given acoustic stimulus.

However, stage two is rife with bias, as people have to move from one place to another to continue the experiments. The specific locations, time, weather, light, decor, atmosphere, and more change from one space to another, any one of which could affect emotional response.

But Arup’s SoundLab could be the solution to some of these experimental problems. When Coutinho and ARUP engineers meet in May for the Music and Emotion forum at swissnex San Francisco, Coutinho hopes to collaborate and focus on the acoustics of the space itself in his experiment, using the SoundLab to hold all other factors constant and to evaluate the impact of specific venues in emotional responses to music. He’s very enthusiastic about this interaction with the industry. “I like the mix,” he says, “being myself from a engineering background.”

Feel the Music

If you are curious about the interaction between science and music, don’t miss Feel the Music: Sound and Emotion on May 16 and 17 at swissnex San Francisco. Discussions around music research and emerging technologies, with Eduardo Coutinho and Shane Myrbeck from Arup’s SoundLab, take place Friday morning.