Archived entries for Donald Hutson

administration of music

A large part of my time at NSI/Children’s thus far has involved creating the 30-minute stimuli material. Basically, I’ve listened to a lot of lullabies, chosen the ones that match qualifications set by prior research, performed some sound editing to equalize any abrupt volume changes (which are jarring for anyone, but especially babies), and sound tested them to ensure appropriate volume level.

Above is the brilliant Donald Hutson. He works on creating Brain-Based Devices for the Neurosciences Institute, but on the side, he is a master destroyer at BattleBots. Check his website here. He has a bot called Diesector – eek. On a lighter note, Donald engineered the lovely speaker system we are using to play music for the babies. The black thing coming out of the back of the speaker is actually a camera stand. A wire runs directly from the speaker to the iPod, so it doesn’t need any outside power. As long as the iPod is charged, the babies’ll hear music. This picture shows the iPod securely connected to the pole, but it took some finagling and brainstorming to get it to that point.

Donald attached one of those plastic snap-clasps (I just made up that name) to the iPod with adhesive foam tape. He then secured it with a zip tie, and we put it on the pole. It was a little loose, and I wanted to make sure that I would be able to see the screen at all times, so he added one thin layer of black duct tape. This added the perfect amount of traction and extra circumference for a snug fit around the pole.

The process of sound testing involved latching the speaker onto a chair in the conference room at NSI so the sound would project about one foot from the end of the sound level meter. This emulated the conditions of the speaker over a baby’s head. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the appropriate maximum sound level for prolonged exposure for an infant is 70-75 dB, so I had to first test each song for its existing dB level and then adjust accordingly.

This entire process is done, with the finalized lullaby playlist on both iPods we have designated for the study. This week at the hospital, the nurses are getting officially informed about the study and hopefully early next week, I will finally start the music administration we’ve all been waiting for!

I’ll leave you all with just a few robot-themed songs I enjoy.

Remnants of my however-modest presence in the NJSKA scene:

I wish I could find the Japanese version on YouTube but I failed:

I’ve told the world this approx. a billion times, but I’m seeing Robyn on the 22nd:

Fave remix (of this song) of the week. I feel like everyone tries to rmx this, and luckily most of them do a great job with it:

magic & techno

This past Thursday, a magician visited the Neurosciences Institute. I heard rumblings of his presence over lunch, but I had failed to cross paths with him until I went on a hunt for the owner of some unattended, unrecognized items in the conference room. I needed to do some sound testing in that room but didn’t want to inconvenience the person whose stuff was there, so find the owner I did. And I’m glad I did.

Enter Mark Mitton.

I found him in the office/lab of robotics engineer Donald Hutson, the mastermind behind the speaker apparatus for the music therapy study. After a few moments of creepily lurking in the doorway and eavesdropping on the conversation the two were having with John, I joined in the fun. Mitton’s friend and NSI contact David Edelman, a Swarthmore alum, walked in the room with a handful of brown paper lunch bags and hands one to each of us. Mitton taught us how to throw up an imaginary ball and have it land in the paper bag. He even taught us how to play catch with these imaginary balls. Amazing!

Even though this was the only trick I saw Mitton do and the secret was revealed, I know that Mitton is a good magician. Between his wit, intelligence, and energy, he could outsmart the curls out of my hair! He also tends to switch from topic to topic, as one word of a conversation reminds him of story, experience, or article. His voracious thirst for knowledge combined with his composed excitement manifest with full commitment to the amazing questions, phenomena, and truths that pervade his(/our) world.

As Donald, David, John, Mark and I were tossing around the imaginary ball, we eventually started to sync up. Mitton noted that once, at a conference, a woman approached him after the ball-throwing activity saying that her partner-in-catch was exuding all kinds of good chemistry her way: he caught every ball she threw. Here, the sensorimotor experience led this woman to feel an emotional connection. Indeed, this is not an isolated incident. John mentioned a line of research in group cooperation where people are more likely to cooperate successfully in problem-solving tasks if they first tap the same rhythm together. Mitton noted his experience singing in the chorus as an undergrad, where his school’s group would combine with the other two in his consortium and he would come out of the experience feeling truly connected to everyone, even the people he didn’t know. (P.S. What consortium was this? None other than the Tri-Co, where Mitton was a graduate with the Haverford Class of 1982 with a B.A. in Economics. Cool!)

Appropriately, the conversation skipped to DJs, who draw upon their ability to sense, understand, and interact with the audience in a large-scale, macrocosmic version of the bag trick-induced sensorimotor effect. While many concerts are a give-and-take between artist and audience, DJ performances seem to come with greater expectations. Just as early disc jockeys spun records based on the mood of the audience or the mood they were trying to instill in the audience, current DJs like Tiesto and deadmau5 have the ability to align and extend electronic blips in ways that make overjoyed puppets out of the audience members.

For an example of what the magician was talking about and what I’m trying to reiterate here, compare the first video to the second. The first shows Nosaj Thing, an LA-based electronic and remix artist, performing a DJ set by himself in a room at the Seattle radio station KEXP. The second is a live recording of Nosaj at the Low End Theory Club in LA. There are obviously other variables aside from audience that differentiate the videos (i.e., venue and presence of video projection), but it is pretty clear how Nosaj is reacting to and manipulating the audience.

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