Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Building the Musical Muscle"

A friend recently sent me this TED talk by Charles Limb about cochlear implants and music. At the very least, it's an informative look into the complex acoustics of music and how they might translate into CI electrode-speak.

Now, I won't say too much about what I perceive to be a slightly condescending note in Limb's attitude toward deaf people. (Or perhaps "condescending" isn't the right word, but it's - something. I suspect those who know me well will sense it, too.) I also won't say too much about some disagreements I have with some of the subjective-perception arguments he makes. As a cochlear implant user, the segments Limb describes as sadly, horribly "identical" for anyone with a CI... actually are different for me, too. I can tell a violin from a trumpet. I can identify the flattened state of the altered melodies he plays, even though I can't describe it much further than that. And, although I agree with the assessment that music rehabilitation is something that's left out of CI rehab in general (I myself have hardly done any), remember that this is me speaking as a profoundly prelingually deaf individual. That is, an individual with no auditory memory at all, no real prior experience with music from which to base those auditory judgments. And all CI users are different.

Those contentions aside, Limb's main point is correct: music does not sound the same for CI users as for typically hearing people. (Does anything? No.) It's a fact of where the technology and the field is right now: a cochlear implant, while absolutely amazing in what it is able to accomplish, is nowhere near as sophisticated as natural hearing. And, whatever we do know about the auditory system, it pales in comparison with the complexity of neuroscience. A good point to keep in mind when asking what CI users can and cannot hear! Defining precise "hearing," and attaining it, is such an elusive game. Music, I confess, does not sound amazing to me. It's there, for sure. It's present. It's noise with more shape and function and reason than it used to have, though it's far more nebulous than speech. I frustrate myself trying to articulate, to pinpoint exactly what it "means," in the same way that a word can "mean" something. It's decent, and at the most it's something I can appreciate.

But always the question:  What do these insights mean for me? How do I respond to this self-perception of my sensory insufficiency, of the inaccessible fragments of this rich world? While I do hope that researchers progress with both technology and rehabilitative strategies, the fact is I'm not going to stand before the abstract idea of music (for that's what it is to me still, something abstract) like Tantalus ever striving after a sip of that receding water. I'd like to keep listening and learning, but I refuse to dwell on irrevocable circumstance. I'm thankful for the other beauties there are in this world - a world, I assure you, very far from Tartarus, however excited I might be for future technological advancements.

No comments:

Post a Comment