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Music Alumnus Receives Grant to Fund Research on How Humans Perceive Natural and Artificial Sounds

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Michael Schutz

Michael Schutz ('02 B.M.A. Percussion, B.S. Computer Science) is an associate professor of music cognition/percussion at McMaster University in Ontario, CN. The founding director of the university’s MAPLE Lab (Music Acoustics, Perception, and LEarning), he has been awarded a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant of $140,000 for his ongoing research concerning how humans perceive natural and artificial sounds.

Schutz says that his research into learning how humans process natural and artificial sounds differently may one day lead to creating better hearing aids. While a natural sound will trail off for some time as materials lose energy, many artificial sounds are designed to decay immediately – the auditory equivalent of a freight train stopping on a dime. Understanding how humans perceive natural and artificial sounds differently holds important implications.

People who use hearing aids know that listening to music is not always an enjoyable experience. The problem, says Schutz, is that companies often test hearing aids using sounds far less complex than those created by musicians.

“Artificial tones miss out on important properties of natural sounds. This is a problem both in understanding how our brains process sound in general, and how to design products related to hearing in particular,” says Schutz. “People who use hearing aids find their devices pass lab-based tests, only to be disappointed with their performance in the real world. Refining our understanding of the processing of natural versus artificial sounds will help improve our ability to design effective devices related to listening”

Schutz’s MAPLE Lab is housed within the School of the Arts and is affiliated with the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. Its interdisciplinary nature provides research opportunities for students from across campus in fields such as music, psychology, health sciences, and biology.

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