How music sounds with a hearing implant — listen below!

imageThe Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (by gichristof)

Ever wonder what the world sounds like with a hearing implant? At the moment, it’s not the best. One person describes it as hearing everything through a robot voice, and more complex sounds, like music, are almost impossible to comprehend.

Tone and timbre — what make music sound like music — get lost with a cochlear implant, a highly controversial, surgically-implanted device that allows the deaf and hard of hearing to experience sound. Without picking up on timbre, for example, you can’t distinguish the sounds of one instrument from another, so you can’t hear what’s a guitar and what’s a flute if they play the same note.

Now, two scientists are out to change that. A new electronic processing system for implants is currently being developed by electrical engineer Les Atlas and bioengineer Jay Rubinstein at the University of Washington (home to TEDx event TEDxUofW). This new system makes implants more sensitive to complicated sounds, a huge breakthrough that not only makes music sound better, but also helps users distinguish between sounds in a noisy room, which — right now — is really difficult to do with a cochlear implant.

Below — what a pretty famous song sounds like through a normal cochlear implant, thanks to Seattle radio station KPLU:

And now — the same song through Alas and Rubinstein’s new implant:

(If you didn’t pick up on it, that is “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel.)

While we’ve got you thinking about cochlear implants, you can learn more about their relationship with music in Charles Limb’s TEDMED talk on the subject. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you to check out Rachel Kolb’s inspiring TEDxStanford talk on deaf culture and advocacy in a world so often geared toward the hearing:: "Navigating deafness in a hearing world."

3 cool musical instruments you’ve probably never heard

We all know the guitar, the drums, and the bass. But do you know the Sea Board? The Theremin? Yeah, same here. (Well, some of us knew about the Theremin, but — you know—music nerds at every company.)

Below, three utterly unique musical performances unlike anything else you’ve heard:

Welcome the Sea Board: Roland Lamb at TEDxAlbertopolis
Imagine if the notes on a keyboard blended seamlessly into one another, more like a slide guitar than a piano. What you’d get is the Sea Board, a new organ/guitar/piano hybrid that produces a beautiful, haunting sound. If you think it sometimes sounds unsettling (and we’ll admit, we do), that’s because the player’s fingers linger “off-pitch” in a range of millitones between the notes that comprise the chromatic scale. Here, Roland Lamb, inventor of the Sea Board, narrates an eerie, fascinating performance.    

The new old theremin: Lydia Kavina at TEDxGhent

When you watch a spooky ghost film, know what instrument often makes that eerie background music? A Theremin. It’s seriously one of the coolest instruments we’ve ever seen: you play it without even touching it. Musicians move their hands near two antennas, one for pitch and one for volume, and — voila! — music. In this performance at TEDxGhent, the undisputed queen of Theremin, Lydia Kavina, shows the instrument’s expressive power.

ComputeMusic(now): Andrew Sorensen at TEDxQUT
Can you code music? Andrew Sorenson sure can. He developed his own coding language to allow him to create music on the fly without pre-programmed software or external instruments — just algorithms. Above, you can watch the delightfully nerdy magic as he literally builds his song piece by piece, adding, subtracting and morphing layers of sound via code.

3 TEDx Talks to freak you out for Friday the 13th

It’s Friday the 13th! And, admit it, you’re a little creeped out. Just for fun on this peril-fraught day, here are three weird, bizarre, and slightly spooky TEDx Talks.

Enter another dimension with this haunting art video made for TEDxCopenhagen. The weird audio-visual is up for interpretation…a winter pine forest and an endless ventilation duct?

What makes Psycho’s shower scene so scary? In this talk at TEDxUCLA, researcher Dan Blumenstein explains the sounds that put our hair on end.

And finally, a creepy UFO drum because, well, ALIENS: