Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center say that a cochlear implant can be adjusted to process speech with more clarity for implant users, but the device poses challenges for music listening.
Cochlear implants can be adjusted regarding how they process speech, which is a much simpler auditory signal compared with music. But people with severe hearing loss also have lost auditory neurons that transmit signals to the brain, and it’s not possible to tweak the settings of the implant to compensate for the loss of auditory neurons, reports Anil Lalwani, MD, director of the Columbia Cochlear Implant Program.
“It’s unrealistic to expect people with that kind of nerve loss to process the complexity of a symphony, even with an implant,” says Dr Lalwani.
Instead, Dr Lalwani and members of Columbia’s Cochlear Implant Music Engineering Group are trying to reengineer and simplify music so that it can be more enjoyable for listeners with cochlear implants. “You don’t necessarily need the entire piece to enjoy the music,” Dr Lalwani says. “Even though a song may have very complex layers, you can sometimes just enjoy the vocals, or you can just enjoy the instruments.”
The research team published an article about their study in the October 2015 edition of Behavioural Neurology.
Currently, the group is testing different arrangements of musical compositions to learn which parts of the music are most important for listener enjoyment. The research team reports that music listening is not the same for somebody who has normal hearing, and that is what the team is investigating. Lalwani believes that in the future, software may be able to take an original piece of music and reconfigure it for listeners or give the listener the ability to engineer their own music.
“Our eventual goal is to compose music for people with cochlear implants based on what we’ve learned,” says Dr Lalwani. “Original pieces of music that will possibly have less rhythmic instruments, less reverb, possibly more vocals—something that is actually designed for them.”
Source: Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC)