Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Cracking the emotional code of music

Final Report Summary - CREAM (Cracking the emotional code of music)

The CREAM project (ERC StG 335536, 2014-2019) has combined skills in information technology (audio signal processing) and cognitive neuroscience in order to transform sound into a "cognitive technology" which neuroscientists and clinicians can use for research and healthcare. To do so, the project has developped several key software technologies able to 'sculpt' the characteristics of speech and musical sounds so that they selectively activate certain emotional or neural reactions in their listeners. For instance, scientists in the CREAM team have created a "real-time voice transformation" technique able to change the emotional tone of a speaker while they speak, making them more happy or sad as a result; they have found a way to activate a listener's zygomatic muscles, without their knowing, by controlling subtle characteristics of the voice they're attending to; and cracked the code of what makes a welcoming 'bonjour' sound dominant or trustworthy to your interlocutor (spoiler: it's all in the pitch difference between the first and second syllable). All these tools are made available as free, open-source software for the scientific community, and are now being used in clinical studies in several French hospitals for pathologies such as anxiety, brain stroke and PTSD.

Project CREAM was lead by Dr Jean-Julien Aucouturier, a senior scientist with the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), and located in IRCAM, a computer music institute in Paris, France. The team has employed more than 15 male and female PhD-level scientists since Oct. 2014, roughly half of them coming from a computer science or audio engineering background, and the other half from a psychology or cognitive neuroscience background. Over the course of the project, collaborations were developped with several medical institutions in France, including Hôpital Pitié-Salpétrière and Cochin in Paris, and Hôpital La Timone in Marseille, France, as well as several research universities abroad, incl. Lund University in Sweden, University College London, Waseda and Tokyo University in Japan. Experimental work in the CREAM project has involved more than 600 participants so far, both professional musicians and non-musicians, from four countries (France, England, Sweden and Japan). Results of the projects have been published in high-impact experimental journals, such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Current Biology or Cognition, as well as high-caliber engineering journals such as IEEE Transactions. Outcomes of the projet were also disseminated to non-scientific audiences by a number of initiatives: one film documentary ("Cracking the Emotional Code of CREAM", by French director Mailys Audouze 2016-2019 - Teaser: https://vimeo.com/185950491) concerts resulting from the music residency in the project of Italian composer Emanuele Palumbo, as well as a number of non-technical articles in professional societies (national association for music teachers, etc.) and conferences in musical venues such as Opéra La Monnaie in Brussels or the Montreux Jazz Festival.

For more information, please visit http://cream.ircam.fr