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Scientific & Music Program May 20-22 2011



John McGEE The Potential Role of Listening Modes in Auditory Interfaces for Location-based Services.

The auditory modality offers several advantages as a means of communication for the purposes of location-based services (LBS), including fast response time [1], low
processing and storage overheads [2], and hands/eyes-free mobility. However, with more and more sound-producing technology being used in day-to-day life, the battle for our acoustic attention has led to a steady rise in acoustic noise levels [3]. In an already noisy environment, it is tempting for the sound designer to simply use more volume as a means of gaining the listener’s attention but this creates a vicious circle of noise whereby every sound designer is merely struggling to be heard over the noise of every other sound designer. The field of soundscape theory however, may offer some potential solutions in this regard. Soundscape theory, as described by Schafer [4, 5] and Truax [6], considers sound from a more holistic point of view and the concept of listening modes considers the different levels of attention we pay to auditory stimuli depending on context and location within the soundscape. While several different theoretical listening modes have been proposed across the various acoustic disciplines, there is still a need for empirical data to support the existence of these modes.
One area in which there is a certain amount of empirical data is in relation to spectral bandwidth and what Krause has called his ‘niche theory’ [7-9]. Niche theory describes the way in which different species appear to occupy discrete frequency bandwidths within the soundscapes of natural habitats; it is argued that this natural balance keeps redundant noise to a minimum and enables more efficient acoustic communication. If the principles observed in niche theory were to be observed in human listening behavior then a new approach to sound design might be possible whereby auditory stimuli exploit specific frequency bandwidths in order to maximize information exchange without necessarily raising noise levels. In this paper we outline a proposed experiment whereby listeners are asked to engage in a foreground task
that encourages competitive conversation while also attending to a background listening task whereby participants have to acknowledge background non-speech sound bursts of varying spectral bandwidth presented at random intervals. Our aim is to compare the spectrograms of foreground conversations and background stimuli to see if relative spectral bandwidth has any discernible effect on stimulus identification success rate and response time.
[1] R. Kail and T. A. Salthouse, “Processing Speed as a Mental Capacity,” Acta Psychologica, vol. 86, pp. 199-225, August
[2] R. McGee, “Auditory Displays and Sonification: Introduction and Overview,” In press. 2009. Available: http://www.
[3] K. Wrightson, “An Introduction to Acoustic Ecology,” Soundscape: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology, vol. 1, pp. 10-13,
Spring 2000.
[4] R. M. Schafer, The New Soundscape: a Handbook for the Modern Music Teacher. Ontario: Don Mills, 1969.
[5] R. M. Schafer, The Tuning of the World, 1st ed. New York: Random House Inc., 1977.
[6] B. Truax, Acoustic Communication, 2nd ed. Westport, Connecticut: Ablex Publishing, 2001.
[7] B. L. Krause, “The Niche Hypothesis: How Animals Taught Us to Dance and Sing,” Bioacoustics, Habitat Ambience in
Ecological Balance, p. 6, Winter 1987.
[8] B. L. Krause. (1993, June) The Niche Hypothesis: A Virtual Symphony of Animal Sounds, The Origins of Musical
Expression and the Health of Habitats. The Soundscape Newsletter. 6-10. Available: http://interact.uoregon.edu/Medialit/
[9] B. L. Krause. (1997, Winter) The Niche Hypothesis: Creature Vocalizations and the Relationship Between Natural Sound
and Music. Nature Sounds Newsletter. Available: http://www.naturesounds.org/Newsletters/Win97NicheHypothesis.html


My name is John McGee, I am currently studying for a PhD in the Digital Media Centre based within the Dublin Institute of Technology in Aungier street, Dublin, Ireland.
My research is aimed at auditory interfaces for the purposes of location-based services, with particular focus on the social aspect of acoustic communication and issues such as noise pollution and the concept of listening modes. Originally coming from a graphic design background, I achieved my degree in visual communication from DIT Mountjoy Square in 2004. After working for a number of years in the publishing industry, I returned to college to study for a Masters in digital media technologies in 2007. As part of my Masters, my major project and thesis culminated in the creation of a Flash-based video tutorial website for the bass guitar that synchronises video performances of musical pieces with a graphic tablature display; this work brought me to the attention of the Digital Media Centre where I am now studying. I am also a keen musician, having played bass guitar and electric upright bass for 13 years.

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