Friday, 18 February 2011

The past paving the way....

It would be stupid of me not to mention my honours year, after all it is the building blocks of my PhD journey.  The title of the project was " Interactive Music Technology for distraction for patients within The Children's Hospital Westmead".

The Music Cubes- also known as The Percussa Audio Cubes.

Aim of the Project
To find out if the interactive music making devices known as the Music Cubes are successful in distraction and entertainment among adolescent patients 12-18 within The Department of Adolescent Medicine.
The hypothesis was that integrating the use of computers and interactive devices into entertainment and distraction techniques practices could be the key to positively engaging and motivating adolescents. 
This project aimed to create an exciting and stimulating play area for a hospital, specifically for teenagers (12-18+). The main objective for this play area, is entertainment and distraction through interactive play and music making. This will be achieved through an interactive digital installation using devices called the Audio Cubes.The study involves the patient experimenting with small interactive devices called the Audio Cubes, renamed the Music Cubes for the purpose of this study. The objects are intelligent and can detect and interact with each other, with humans and computer software, providing visual feedback at the same time. They interact with software that lets you create and explore sound, music and visuals through hands-on interaction.
The role of the Music Cubes was to enhance interactive play that is not evident in distraction techniques currently provided to teenagers within the department of Adolescent Medicine.  Current distraction techniques using digital technologies include computer gaming and listening to music, activities that are available on an everyday basis, and therefore less likely to distract teenagers from their medical predicament. The hypothesis was that integrating the use of computers and interactive devices into entertainment and distraction techniques practices, could be the key to positively engaging and motivating adolescents. 
During the honours year I conducted a small trial study at the MARCS Labs, Bankstown. In order to prepare for my major project component within The Children's Hospital, Westmead, it also acted as a good comparison between the two studies.

A small pilot study- MARCS
Find below the summery of the pilot study.
The Music Cubes- A Pilot Study
MARCS Participants, The University of Western Sydney.
Monday the 20th of September.
10 Participants made up of 4 individual participants and 3 groups (2 particpants  in each).
The study was undertaken over 5 hours, on Monday the 20th of September.
Before the session began the participant were given a short  explanation of how the Music Cubes work. They were then asked to choose a genre of music from; rock, pop, hip hop, classical and dance. These choices were stipulated on the instruction sheet (see figure 1 for equipment set up).  
They were then given a quick run through on how to use the cubes (rotate around the receiver cube) and the instrumentation of that genre i.e the classical genre had two cubes that were both piano and one cube that was the strings.
The participant was then asked to play for as long as the cubes held their interest. The lights were dimmed to maximize the effect of the different colours of the cubes and sound activated screensaver.
Generally, the independent participants sessions lasted shorter than that of the group sessions, with the lowest being 1.45 minutes and the highest being 18.13 minutes.
The group sessions generally lasted longer, with more social interaction taking place i.e choosing to make music together, and which cubes to turn next, or exploring which genre of music was a group favourite. The shortest session were 6.29 minutes and the longest being 19.27 minutes.
Feedback forms
After the participant finished using the cubes they were asked to fill out a feedback form that asked five short questions about the system and the participants experience.
The questions were as followed:
1- On a scale of 1-10 (one being the lowest, ten the highest) how much did you enjoy the music cubes?
2- If you could change anything about the Music Cubes, what would you change?
3- What did you enjoy most about the Music Cubes?
4- What was your favourite genre?
Question 1
Question 1, had mixed results with the individual participants scoring lower than that of the group sessions. The average mark of the individual participants was 6/10. This is a relatively decent result that reflects that the participants were entertained by the project for a short period of time, but then lost interest.
For the group participants however the average score was 8/10, which was significantly higher than that of the individual groups. This may be reflected the in capability of the Music Cubes to facilitate for socialisation therefore holding the interest of the participants for longer.
Question 2
In an individual context most of the participants felt that they wanted more control of the music. For instance, the loops have roughly a 2 bar cycle, as Live needs two bars to sync the loops correctly in time. The majority of the individual participants wanted to be able to change things like volume and turning the loops on and off, as apposed to having them play all the time. This is important feedback in the limitations of the system and what can be improved upon.
In a group context,  the participants also wanted more control over the music. One participant in particular wanted to be able to have more instruments and more colours, a few other participants also wanting more control by the way of dynamics or tonality.  There was also a comment about changing the visuals in accordance to different genres, which is a design process to be taken onboard.
Question 3

Altogether most of the participants enjoyed being able to interact and make music in an unconventional way. It also allowed for the participants to make music without having to be professionally trained. The lights of the Music Cubes and the Sound Activated Screen Saver also added to this effect (see figure 2 for set up with lights dimmed). Most enjoyed using the Music Cubes because it was tactile, the lights and it was playful.  Another participant also commented on how they enjoyed being able to figure out who was playing what instrument, when in a group context, was stimulating.
Being the first pilot study since its design there were many positive things. There were also a few glitches to the process.

Battery Life- Half way though the testing, whilst testing my first group of the day one of the Music Cubes ran out of battery. Leaving only two cubes for the participants to play with as apposed to three as the genres were designed for. It worked out that the participants were fine with using the two instruments while I manually changed the third instrument myself. It is a design limitation that is concerning considering all the Cubes were completely charged before testing began. However, without having a battery indicator it is quite difficult to tell the reliability of the Cubes. It means that the Cubes will need to go on charge in between future sessions.
Noise- Due to a design issue the Music Cubes are quite sensitive when it comes to changing the faces to line up with the infrared channels on either side of the Cube. If these are not aligned correctly there is a slight glitching noise, that some of the participants thought was annoying. Like learning any new instrument it is a restraint that needs to be perfected, the Cubes need to be alined in order to get the best possible results.
Visuals- At the time of the study there was only one screen saver, which can be quite boring after a while, and some participants would like to see some variation in the screen saver and lights in the Music Cubes themselves.
The pilot study was a great success considering that the Music Cubes were designed for children and the participants were all over the age of 25. It is a positive aspect if the Music Cubes hold older participants for as long as it did. Although there were a few limitations the pilot study ran smoothly and affectively. There is a lot to be learned from the comments about design and control that can be explored further.

A week at The Children's Hospital Westmead.

The Department of Adolescent Medicine, The Children’s Hospital Westmead’s involvement in the project is invaluable, especially because of the focus on improving adolescent heath, which the pilot study was targeted. This research collaboration with the University of Western Sydney will be of value to the hospital through the direct input to the developments in the field, and through the valuable input and feedback staff will have throughout the research project.  The project not only is of value to the community, to the Hospital, and to the University, but to its patients by promoting wellbeing. The Music Cubes is of great value to original knowledge as interactive play devices like that of the Music Cubes are yet to be used within major hospitals in Sydney.  This project therefore, will plant the seed for further development and exploration within hospitals in Australia.

My purpose for the honours year was to use the Music Cubes to benefit adolescent patients in hospital by distracting them from boredom and normalizing their stay. Overall, the Music Cubes were a success both in the trial study undertaken at MARCS and the pilot study undertaken with patients from The Department of Adolescent Medicine, The Children’s Hospital Westmead. The hope is that through interactive play and music making the patients will finally have a device specifically designed to distract and entertain them, and benefit from these innovative tools, which was an opportunity my brother never had. 

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