A piece of music can be spare -- containing
only one or a few musical lines played by different instruments, or can
have a larger range of parts that make up a rich background of harmony.
Researchers from the University of Munich and Saarland University
in Germany are using music to convey information depending on whether
a particular part is present or absent in an overall composition. The
researcher's prototype uses music composed so that particular parts can
be added or subtracted without losing the aesthetic quality of the piece
as a whole.
This makes it possible to convey information like an alert to
particular people that will go unnoticed by others.
The idea takes advantage of the way the mind perceives its environment.
Background music is usually perceived only peripherally. When a tune that
is especially liked or disliked comes on, however, it tends to cross into
conscious perception. When someone has chosen a particular instrument
or musical phrase as a notification, that person will become aware of
the music when it plays.
The method to be used, for example, with the ambient music present
in public places like shopping malls to notify security personnel without
disturbing anyone else, according to the researchers.
The researchers have developed a prototype with eight directional
speakers that is designed for a user study. Notification can be given
using a particular phrase or instrument and can also be given from specific
One of the researchers' demonstration compositions includes core
cello, keyboard, violin and drum parts, and an optional piano part that
fits into the rest of the music but moves a little faster.
The method is ready for practical use now. They presented the
research at the Intelligent User Interfaces Conference (IUI 2005) held
January 9 to 12, 2005 in San Diego.
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