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Test, Predict, and Improve Musical Scene Perception of Hearing-Impaired Listeners

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TIMPANI (Test, Predict, and Improve Musical Scene Perception of Hearing-Impaired Listeners)

Berichtszeitraum: 2018-09-01 bis 2020-08-31

In both speech and music perception, the auditory system decomposes sounds that overlap in time and frequency into distinct perceptual events and streams, which is referred to as auditory scene analysis (ASA). Hearing-impaired listeners suffer from severely compromised ASA, as illustrated by their immense difficulties to understand speech in noisy environments. Although the central role of ASA in shaping the experience of music is widely acknowledged—perceptually organizing sounds from multiple instruments or voices into melody and accompaniment, for instance—the role of hearing loss in musical scene perception remains largely unexplored. At the same time, hearing aids are typically designed for speech perception, not for music perception. Adopting a transdisciplinary approach that employs methods from music perception, auditory modelling, and signal processing, the objectives of this Action were to Test, Predict, and Improve Musical Scene Perception of Hearing-Impaired Listeners (TIMPANI).

This research is timely and addresses the H2020 challenges to improve demographic change and wellbeing in European societies: The rise of hearing loss calls for scientific and technological breakthroughs in order to include hearing-impaired individuals in the cultural resource of music listening and making.

Research conducted in the course of this action revealed substantial difficulties of older hearing-impaired listeners to “hear out”, that is, to perceptually separate instruments and melodies in musical mixtures. Older hearing-impaired listeners with musical training had better musical scene analysis abilities compared to listeners without musical training (but did not have better speech reception thresholds). Contrary to normal-hearing listeners, it was shown that hearing-impaired listeners do not listen “in the dips” of the musical accompaniment to hear out a melody. It was further demonstrated that sound onsets are particularly important for identifying musical instruments and auditory modeling suggested that onsets exhibit particularly rich acoustical information. Linear amplification in hearing-aids with a boost of bass frequencies yielded benefits in terms of sound quality ratings of hearing-impaired listeners compared to compressive amplification.
Work performed in the course of this project covered the development of experiments on music perception abilities and models that predict the behavioral results of experimental participants.

The main results of this work with regards to normal-hearing listeners are summarized in the following two journal articles:
Siedenburg, K. (2019). Specifying the perceptual relevance of onset transients for musical instrument identification. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 145(2):1078–1087.
Siedenburg, K., Schädler, M. R., and Hülsmeier, D. (2019). Modeling the onset advantage in musical instrument recognition. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 146(6):EL523–EL529.

The main results of this work with regards to hearing-impaired listeners are summarized in a manuscript entitled
Siedenburg, K., Röttges, S., Wagener, K., Hohmann, V. (under review). Can you hear out the melody? Testing musical scene perception in young normal-hearing and older hearing-impaired listeners.

In addition to these journal articles, research results were presented at various national and international conferences and workshops.
This project has extended the state of the art in the topic of musical scene perception of listeners with hearing-impairment. The project’s research results provide evidence that age-related hearing loss is associated with a worsening of musical scene analysis abilities and suggest strategies for designing hearing-aid algorithms for music. The project has impacted the research community through presentations of research results at conferences, publication journal papers, and through the organization of dedicated outreach activities.

The project further served as a springboard for developing Kai Siedenburg’s scientific career. Being awarded a so-called Freigeist Fellowship from the Volkswagen Foundation in 2019, Kai Siedenburg presently leads an independent research group on music perception and processing at the University of Oldenburg. In addition, Kai Siedenburg will be awarded the Lothar Cremer Award for outstanding contributions to acoustics from the German Acoustical Society in 2020.
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