New McMaster lab will look at how a musician’s brain works

When a musician nods her head or takes a breath, she’s often sending a signal to her partner performers.

A new lab at McMaster aims to study some of those unspoken communication gestures and movements. The university’s new LIVELab combines 3D motion-capture technology, acoustic controls and brain-monitoring sensors to trace some of the under-studied parts of human communication, especially as it’s translated between musicians and a live audience.

Saturday was the LIVELab’s grand opening, and performances to demonstrate the motion capture technology and the brainwave sensors were so popular the audience had to take shifts coming into the hall.

“For what they’re doing here, [LIVELab is] number 1 in the world,” said Dan India, a vice president with Swedish motion-capture company Qualisys, who came to town from Chicago for the opening events.

McMaster researcher Laurel Trainor said the applications for the lab are numerous. Its acoustic manoeuvrability means hearing aid researchers could work out kinks in new designs. The motion capture or brainwave monitors could help Parkinson’s or autism researchers determine human reactions to music and sound.

Trainor is director of the McMaster Institute for Music & the Mind and professor in the department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour.

The $8 million lab has been nearly a decade in the works. Saturday, members of Ensemble Vivant performed a few different genres of music while hooked up to motion and brain sensors. Behind them, the audience could see some streams of raw data collected by the instruments.

“We can start to ask big research questions like: How do musicians interact with each other?” Trainor said. “How do they coordinate to play together and how do their brains accomplish that? How do audiences react? And how does the energy from audiences affect performers? Now we can really start to understand how these complex dynamics take place.”

By Kelly Bennett

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