Towards the improvement of the musical experiences of cochlear implant users
Most previous research into cochlear implant (CI) mediated music listening deals with the mechanisms and efficacy of music perception and does not often account for the listeners real-world musical experience. Measurements of music perception ability are based on listening tasks such as pitch-discrimination, timbre-recognition and rhythmic-identification, and rarely (if ever) relate to the individual experience of the human subject. The exploration of musical experience, however, is based on a holistic view of the ways in which individual people experience music, which can be informed by the interaction of a multitude of factors. For the purposes of this thesis, three categories of experience are considered to coalesce to inform the general musical experience: sensory experience, cognitive experience and social/environmental experience. This thesis moves towards consideration of the real-world musical experiences of cochlear implant users (CIUs) with a view of developing strategies that can be implemented to improve those elements of the musical experience that may be problematic. The thesis comprises three main sections as follows: The first section investigates the musical experiences of CI users (CIUs) by means of a questionnaire study and the consideration of information gained from music focus groups and conversations with implant users. Results show a great deal of variability in the musical experiences of CIUs but many people report positive experiences of music despite suffering from what may be described as ‘poor’ music perception. The second section outlines the design, development and implementation of a multi-channel mixer application, which is used in a study exploring the way in which CIUs mix multi-channel music, to gain insight into their experience of musical elements. Analysing the user-generated mix data provides considerable insights into various elements of the musical experience of participants. Again, results show a large degree of variability on this issue amongst CIUs, and also that the average mixes of CIUs differ significantly from that of a control group of normal-hearing (NH) participants. The third section describes the composition, development and evaluation of a musical work specifically composed for CIUs but designed to be enjoyable for both CIUs and NH audience members alike. The aim of this composition is to promote a positive musical experience by addressing elements of the sensory, cognitive and social/environmental experience based on findings of this research. This thesis concludes by suggesting that the ideal approach for improving the musical experiences of CIUs should focus on the individual, due to the great deal of variability within this population, and presents some implications of this work and suggestions for future research in this area.