The Impact of Cochlear Implants on Musical Experience

In: Medicine, Health, and The Arts: Approaches to the medical humanities

Zack Moir and Katie Overy

Abstract:

Since the first attempts to stimulate the auditory system with an implanted electrode in the 1950s, there have been rapid and significant improvements in the design of cochlear implant (CI) technology. Developments in CI sound processing strategies have led to crucial improvements in the ways in which people with hearing losses and profound deafness are able to perceive speech and, in turn, communicate aurally. The success of this medical and technological revolution has resulted in a current acceptance that cochlear implantation is an effective and safe treatment for deafness. These substantial improvements in CI technology and subsequent speech perception abilities mean that most CI users now tend to score very highly on tests of word/sentence recognition, perform well in open-set speech perception tests and are often even able to communicate via the telephone. However, many CI users remain dissatisfied with their perception of non-speech sounds. For example, it is common for CI users to voice complaints relating to their post-implantation perception of music.

This chapter will consider the ways in which the advent and development of CI technology have impacted upon the musical experience of CI users. Two case studies will be discussed, both involving research projects that aimed to improve the musical experiences of CI users, and both reflecting the way in which current developments in music/audio processing and music technology can be utilized to counter some of the significant and varied problems associated with implant-mediated music perception.

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