25 May 2018

Future Hospital

Digital technology is increasingly interlaced with the way we live, but do we truly understand the potential it holds?

Not only has the digital revolution exposed a multitude of creative possibilities, it has also paved way for the human brain to work hand in hand with technology as an equal.

On May 12th SensiLab’s Improvisational Interfaces team, consisting of Professor Jon McCormack and Toby Gifford presented four interactive music interfaces at the Royal Melbourne Hospital for the Future Hospital event during Melbourne Knowledge Week. All four improvisational instruments have been designed utilizing music and sound as the centralised medium to analyse the depths of brain activity and reaction.

Volunteer experimenting with digital interface “Nodal”, a generative music application that plays different sounds through a user-defined graphical network

The expectation is to see the extent people utilizing and collaborating with the instruments experience unbridled creative abilities, and ultimately how these improvisational interfaces are understood cognitively. This gives users the opportunity to consider the apparatuses akin to working with a musically intelligent being and receptive partner. An EEG scanner helmet with 32 sensors was utilised throughout the process to monitor the brain electrical activity the test subjects.

Amongst the 700 attendees at Future Hospital, over 20 volunteers from different ages and backgrounds completed the interactive circuit. Director of SensiLab, Professor Jon McCormack, highlighted one test subject whose brain waves differed greatly to other volunteers. “She got swept in and was really focused on the music improvisation process. We were only expecting them [the volunteers] to be on that interface for 2 or so minutes, but she was on there for about 15 and her EEG pattern was fascinating,” he said. Albeit the final analysis of the results still underway, McCormack was pleasantly surprised by the overall receptiveness to the quirks of computational designs. “It was just great, everyone just had so much fun playing with the interfaces, and that’s really the point,” he said.

A volunteer playing the “Melobot”, unlike traditional keyboards the Melobot interprets the user’s key input and produces unique sounds that jam along to the tune

While neighbouring teams presented tools or prospective cures for medical illnesses, the SensiLab team directed their attention towards improving mental well-being through technology. The aid of improvisational creativity stimulates a person’s thinking whilst simultaneously becoming a source of enjoyment and fun, is at the heart of mental well-being.

Rather than looking at computerised technology as a tool, we are now seeing at it as a creative partner that can harness new concepts and enhance the creative ideas of an individual in the future. SensiLab aims to continue designing digital interfaces that have originality and sensitivity generated in every output, allowing people and technology to grow together seamlessly.

Researcher Toby Gifford shows a volunteer the “Cosmic Rhythm Machine”, a technological musical companion that produces rhythmic sounds in response to user interaction

Reporting by journalism student Tiffany Yuan