Aural diversity

We are part of a research network that has just been funded, focused around Aural diversity.

Aural Diversity arises from the observation that everybody hears differently. The assumption that we all possess a standard, undifferentiated pair of ears underpins most listening scenarios. Its the basis of many audio technologies, and has been a basis for much of our understanding of hearing and hearing perception. But the assumption is demonstrably incorrect, and taking it too far means that we miss out on many opportunities for advances in auditory science and audio engineering. We may well ask: whose ears are standard? whose ear has primacy? The network investigates the consequences of hearing differences in areas such as: music and performance, soundscape and sound studies, hearing sciences and acoustics, hearing care and hearing technologies, audio engineering and design, creative computing and AI, and indeed any field that has hearing or listening as a major component.

The term ‘auraldiversity’ echoes ‘neurodiversity’ as a way of distinguishing between ‘normal’ hearing, defined by BS ISO 226:2003 as that of a healthy 18-25 year-old, and atypical hearing (Drever 2018, ‘Primacy of the Ear’). This affects everybody to some degree. Each individual’s ears are uniquely shaped. We have all experienced temporary changes in hearing, such as when having a cold. And everybody goes through presbyacusis (age-related hearing loss) at varying rates after the teenage years.

More specific aural divergences are the result of an array of hearing differences or impairments which affect roughly 1.1 billion people worldwide (Lancet, 2013). These include noise-related, genetic, ototoxic, traumatic, and disorder-based hearing loss, some of which may cause full or partial deafness. However, “loss” is not the only form of impairment: auditory perceptual disorders such as tinnitus, hyperacusis and misophonia involve an increased sensitivity to sound.

And its been an issue in our research too. We’ve spent years developing automatic mixing systems that produce audio content like a sound engineer would (De Man et al 2017, ‘Ten Years of Automatic Mixing’). But to do that, we usually assume that there is a ‘right way’ to mix, and of course, it really depends on the listener, the listener’s environment, and many other factors. Our recent research has focused on developing simulators that allow anyone to hear the world as it really sounds to someone with hearing loss.

AHRC is funding the network for two years, beginning July 2021. The network is led by  Andrew Hugill of the University of Leicester. The core partners are the Universities of Leicester, Salford, Nottingham, Leeds, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary University of London (the team behind this blog), and the Attenborough Arts Centre. The wider network includes many more universities and a host of organisations concerned with hearing and listening.

The network will stage five workshops, each with a different focus:

  • Hearing care and technologies. How the use of hearing technologies may affect music and everyday auditory experiences.
  • Scientific and clinical aspects. How an arts and humanities approach might complement, challenge, and enhance scientific investigation.
  • Acoustics of listening differently. How acoustic design of the built and digital environments can be improved.
  • Aural diversity in the soundscape. Includes a concert featuring new works by aurally diverse artists for an aurally diverse audience.
  • Music and performance. Use of new technologies in composition and performance.

See http://auraldiversity.org for more details.

Invitation to online listening study

We would like to invite you to participate in our study titled “Investigation of frequency-specific loudness discomfort levels, in listeners with migraine-related hypersensitivity to sound“.

Please note : You do not have to be a migraine sufferer to participate in this study although if you are, please make sure to specify that, when asked during the study (for more on eligibility criteria check the list below)

Our study consists of a brief questionnaire, followed by a simple listening test. This study is targeted towards listeners with and without migraine headaches and in order to participate you have to meet all of the following criteria:

1) Be 18 years old or older

2) Not have any history or diagnosis of hearing loss

3) Have access to a quiet room to take the test

4) Have access to a computer with an internet connection

5) Have access to a pair of functioning headphones

The total duration of the study is approximately 25 minutes. Your participation is voluntary however valuable, as it could provide a useful insight on the auditory manifestations of migraine, as well as aid the identification of possible differences between participants with and without migraines, this way facilitating further research on sound adaptations for migraine sufferers.

To access the study please follow the link below:

https://golisten.ucd.ie/task/hearing-test/5ff5b8ee0a6da21ed8df2fc7

If you have any questions or would like to share your feedback on this study please email a.mourgela@qmul.ac.uk or joshua.reiss@qmul.ac.uk