“Ultimately the sound is almost irrelevant to the musical experience, with the important caveat that what matters about the sound is the psychological process it triggers in the mind of the listener. So it obviously plays an important role there, but what really matters is how it’s being perceived and how it’s being heard. So if there’s something like a gesture that can change the perception, then you have changed the music, because music is something that really exists only in the mind of the listener.” — Prof. Michael Schutz
This episode’s guest is the Associate Professor of Music Cognition/Percussion at McMaster University. Drawing on his interdisciplinary training in music, psychology, and computer science, he directs the MAPLE Lab, which researches Music, Acoustics, Perception, and Learning, while also conducting the McMaster Percussion Ensemble and serving on faculty at the Honors Music Institute in Pennsylvania. Designated a “University Scholar” in recognition of his innovative merging of music performance and perception, he’s received the Ontario Early Researcher Award and the 2019 Alumni Award from the Penn State School of Music, as well as numerous grants to support his research. Before McMaster, he spent five years as Director of Percussion Studies at Longwood University, taught percussion at Virginia Commonwealth University, and performed frequently with symphonies.
His TEDx Talk “Death by Beep” is now available on the TED website and the below YouTube link. His name is Professor Michael Schutz and you’ll want to hear his suggestions about how to fix a very real problem that’s happening right now in hospitals all over the world.
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Listening to the Echoes
The show starts with Dr. Schutz recounting a memorable early experience with sound, how he first discovered the mystery of echoes as a child by dropping his lunchbox and listening to the sound bounce off a neighbor’s house, and then the day that he received his first drum set, a Rototom that sparked his passion for music. “I just remember,” he recalls, “at the moment thinking that there’s something really fascinating about these percussive musical sounds.”
Questions of Psychology
We continue with his introduction to psychology, and how his early skepticism about the importance of body language while playing the marimba gave way to the understanding that music and psychology have a lot in common, and that in some ways music stands at the forefront of psychology. “I realized,” he tells us, “that a lot of the things that we spend a lot of time exploring as musicians are, essentially, you can think about them as questions of psychology.”
Magic Between the Ears
Dr. Schutz goes on to talk about the McGurk Effect, a dramatic example of how what we’re seeing can quite literally change the way we perceive sound, and the surprisingly complex and active role that the listener plays in a musical performance. “Music is something that really exists only inside the mind of the listener,” he explains. “Outside our minds, it’s a bunch of sound waves, a bunch of air molecules bumping together. The magic happens between the ears.”
A Musical Perspective
The first part of our interview concludes with a look at the limitations of audio research and how his team is working to bring a musical perspective into the medical field and find ways to reduce the stress, turmoil, and even accidental deaths that hospital alarms can still cause. “The medical technology’s advanced incredibly over the past half-century,” he says, “but the sounds seem to be stuck with these limitations that went out of date decades ago.”
- Dr. Schutz’s childhood sounds and first drumkit
- The link between music and psychology
- The McGurk Effect and how sight affects sounds
- How the listener’s brain creates music
- Creating a better, safer hospital alarm
Be sure to check back next week for part two as we talk about the prevalence of those flat hospital beeps throughout our lives, the effect they can have on us, and how Dr. Schutz and MAPLE Lab are working to help create a healthier, more natural medical soundscape.
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This interview episode was very skillfully made to sound beautiful by the talented Humberto Franco.
Connect with Dr. Michael Schutz:
MAPLE Lab: www.maplelab.net
“Death By Beep” on TEDx Talks: https://youtu.be/Ap8geRll6F0/
Dr Schutz’s ScienceDirect Article on Improving Auditory Interfaces: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000368702100079X/
Follow Dr. Michael Schutz on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maplelab.mcmaster/
Connect with Dr. Michael Schutz on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-michael-schutz/