By Steve Harvey.
As a highlight of the Opening Ceremonies for the 131st AES Convention in New York, Dr. Charles Limb, a hearing specialist and a musician, presented a keynote address that not only offered insight into the workings of the ear and the brain, but also included a plea to audio engineers to help rehabilitate patients with cochlear implants.
Hearing is the only sense that can be at least partially restored, observed Limb, noting that 200,000 people worldwide have undergone surgery for cochlear implants. Yet the operation is only part of the process; without training, patients are unlikely to truly perceive music in the same way as speech.
People with implants can recover their language skills, but musical pitch perception can be off by as much as two octaves, for example. "A C.I. patient can't tell the difference between a trumpet and a violin," he also noted.
Limb's research—which he detailed in his presentation—currently focuses on brain activity in improvising musicians and freestyle rappers in an attempt to find a way to help restore music comprehension among C.I. patients. "The brain is key to all this," he commented, adding, "Music is a whole-brain activity."
It appears that we are hardwired to understand music, as evidenced by Beethoven composing while profoundly deaf. We are also driven to create it, he noted, pointing to the discovery of a bone flute dating back tens of thousands of years.
It may be unusual for the AES to be addressed by a surgeon, but the organization certainly represents a large pool of potential recruits. Hence Limb's plea: "Hearing impaired individuals need your help."