Rébecca Kleinberger Dissertation Defense

December 16, 2019
2:00pm — 4:00pm ET

Vocal Connection: Rethinking the voice as a medium for personal, interpersonal, and interspecies understanding

Abstract: Voices are ubiquitous and familiar, so much so that it is easy to forget how fundamentally important vocal signals really are to how we relate to others and to ourselves. Vocal experiences can take many forms (audible, tangible, silent, internal, external, neurological, remote, etc.) and offer great potential for bridging diverse fields. We are proposing a new approach for looking at the voice holistically, in its experiential nature, based on its propensity to connect. In this way, the dissertation introduces and examines methods for the creation of interactive voice-based experiences that foster novel and profound connections.

We present three projects to support and illustrate this approach by establishing connections at three levels: individual, interpersonal, and extending beyond human languages. The Memory Music Box establishes a sense of connection across space and time, and is specially designed to encourage conversation and to enhance a sense of connectedness for older adults. With the Mumble Melody initiative, we extract musicality from everyday speech as a way to access inner voice processes and help people who stutter gain increased fluency. Finally, with the Sonic Enrichment at the Zoo project, we present ways to improve connections within and between species—including between humans and animals—by exploring sonic and vocal enrichment interventions at the San Diego Zoo.

Each of these projects represents a different angle from which to consider the potential of the voice for creating new forms of connection. Such is the vision of this work. We consider the notion of connectedness broadly, including the raising of personal self-awareness, the creation of strong interpersonal bonds, and the potential to create new forms of empathetic understanding with other species. Although this research focuses on the voice, it extends beyond this realm. The broader themes examined through this work have implications in the fields of neurology, cognitive sciences, assistive technologies, human-computer interactions, communication sciences, and rapport-building. Indeed, since the voice is a versatile projection of ourselves into the world, it offers a unique perspective for the study and enhancement of cognition, learning, personal development, and wellbeing. 

Tod Machover, Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT

Janet M. Baker, Research Affiliate, Fluid Interface Group, MIT
Satrajit Ghosh, Principal Research Scientist, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, MIT
Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Harvard Medical School

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