Soul music


BiomusicHans Christian Andersen once wrote, “Where words fail, music speaks.”

For Dr. Stefanie Blain-Moraes of the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy (SPOT), this couldn’t echo more truthfully. Her Biomusic technology uses sound to help people with profound multiple disabilities (PMD) convey their emotions regardless of their communicational capacities.

Biomusic uses electrodes to record physiological signals from the autonomic nervous system that indicate responses to environmental, emotional and mental stimuli. Using a unique algorithm, these responses are translated into musical elements—heartbeat becomes drumbeat; respiration, phrasing; and sweat, pitch.

The goal is to add a communicative dimension to help people with PMD improve their ‘personhood,’ the quality of interaction with others and how they are perceived.

According to Blain-Moraes, the current trend in augmented and alternative communication (AAC) is to give clients options (such as tablet-based applications) that enable them to say as much as possible. But for things such as emotional state and quality of life, you can’t put an icon into an AAC device. “When we have to place words on top of an internal state, music fills much of that void,” she says.

As part of SPOT, Blain-Moraes’ focus is on improving Biomusic’s applications in rehabilitation. Yet, the larger societal possibilities are still worth considering.

“Imagine someone could hear your text message or email and intuitively understand what emotional state you were in when you sent it,” she says. “It’s a realm of communication currently being neglected that’s needed to form strong interpersonal connections.” (Russ Cooper, MSc(OT)’16)


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