By: Jimmy Liu

Look forward to groundbreaking music cognition research coming out of McMaster's LIVELab, an $8 million research facility for the scientific study of music, dance, and multimedia. LIVELab had its grand opening on Sept. 27, and gave audiences a sneak peek of its facilities and the research that will be conducted.

LIVELab is located on the second floor of the McMaster Psychology Building, and boasts an impressive 100 seat performance hall. However, this performance hall is unlike any other – it features cutting-edge technology including virtual acoustics, motion capture, a video wall, and most importantly, the ability to measure both the audience and performer's brain responses.

“We want to study the integration between the audience and performers in a highly controlled environment,” said Carl Karichian, Lab Manager at LIVELab. “Our vision for the future is inspiring groundbreaking research that influences pedagogical decisions, health, and psychological questions in groups.”

In addition, a new music and dance studio is planned to be built at LIVELab in the memory of Catherine Carmichael, a former psychoanalyst at the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind.

LIVELab has already completed a pilot study with CoBALT Connects, a Hamilton-based non-profit organization. Volunteers from the “Expressing Vibrancy” research project participated in studies with the lab last spring.

The community has been extremely supportive of the facility. Multiple performing artists played at the grand opening, including the McMaster Women's Choir, demonstrating the performance hall's active acoustics and motion capture systems. Members of the  Hamilton All-Star Jazz Band were also in attendance.

The windows surrounding LIVELab, crafted by architect Drew Hauser, have been arranged in such a way as to represent the notes of two songs. The Jazz Band played renditions of both songs at the opening.

“Music brings people together,” said Jillian McKenna, the bassist of the Jazz Band ensemble. “This place shows that there's a lot more to music than we take for granted.”

As a volunteer and previously a research assistant at the LIVELab, Mac student Dana Swarbrick agreed with this sentiment. As an undergraduate, she received a neuroscience award and was funded to work last summer with Laurel Trainor, the founding director.

“It was designed to look at the interaction and engagement between audience and performers,” Swarbrick said. “But it can be used for so much more.”

The performance hall contains sensors to measure sweat level on a performer's fingers, respiration belts for the audience to measure breathing, tools to measure heart rate and the nervous system, as well as the uncontrolled nervous system – the natural behavioural response of humans.

Even with this state-of-the-art technology, sometimes it's the simple things that are amazing.

“My favourite aspect is the virtual acoustics,” said Swarbrick. “It's incredible that a room can change size before your ears.”

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