Katija Bonin

The Silhouette


After five years of conceptual design, paired with a successful grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and support from McMaster University, the L.I.V.E. Performance Laboratory is under construction.

Located in McMaster’s Psychology Building, the facility will include a small concert hall and stage with seats for one hundred.

Although seemingly simplistic, it is the incorporated technology that defines this project as a Large Interactive Virtual Environment (L.I.V.E.), which will facilitate research in the areas of music and neuroscience.

The walls of the lab will be lined with a dense array of loudspeakers, which will allow users to mimic virtually any acoustic environment – “from a subway station to Carnegie Hall,” said project director Laurel Trainor.

The lab aims to fuel investigation into basic questions pertaining to the significance and universality of music in human society. “Why do people still go to concerts, when they could just listen to music at home?” said Trainor. “How do people coordinate and entertain together when playing music?”

The audience seats will be wired to measure physiological responses such as heart rate, breathing rate, skin responses, and muscle tension responses through the fingers. Thirty of the seats will be equipped with EEG sensors, enabling researchers to monitor audience neural activity. Performers will also have an EEG system, able to track four musicians at one time.

Additionally, there will be a motion capture system, tracking the movement of performers while making music and audience movements in response to music, and the back of the stage will house an array of monitors to measure the effects of visual stimuli.

The technology will allow researchers to investigate everything from how a musician’s brain copes when fellow performers make a mistake to an audience member’s physical and psychological responses to different types of music.

The concept of such a laboratory originated in McMaster’s Institute for The Music and The Mind, a multi-disciplinary institute incorporating psychology, neuroscience, engineering, music, mathematics, kinesiology and the health sciences. It is an extension of a three-tiered mandate aimed at promoting research in music cognition, music education, and music activities in the community.

It is known that music plays a role in altering mood, and music is traditionally used in many social gatherings, from parties to weddings to funerals. Research has found that “people engaging in music making or dance feel a closer social bond. This facility will enable us to test such theories,” said Trainor.

The design and technology of the facility, although originally intended to discover how music affects people, will also enable research on a variety of topics.

Already, Steven Brown and Matthew Woolhouse, researchers in the field, plan to use the space to test the psychological response to dance, while Sue Becker and Ian Bruce plan to test how well hearing aids work in realistic auditory environments, and Joe Kim, professor of Psychology at McMaster, plans on using the space to forward his research in pedagogy – the method and practice of effective teaching.

Trainor affirmed that this project is “like no other, and its potential is unlimited.”

Construction began in early January, and in the current timeframe, will be complete by Spring 2013.


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