Music and acoustic technology

Sound (including music and other sounds, natural and artificial) and its intersection with computer science. This multidisciplinary research area includes development of algorithms, signal processing techniques, user interfaces and information systems to support music or sound-based interactions between humans and computers and between performers and audiences mediated by technology. It can include interaction between the audio-visual interface and topics such as musical signals, musical enhancement, sound classification and musical data-mining. This area excludes speech-based interactions (which are covered by the Speech Technology research area) and use of acoustic technology in engineering-based applications, but could include applications of sound in healthcare and robotics, for example.

We aim to achieve a better balance in this portfolio between music and acoustic technology, especially because the latter relates to hearing. This strategy recognises the quality of UK research in this area and the importance of the topic in underpinning application areas in the creative industries and healthcare in particular.

This research area brings together acoustics research with its application to a number of fields which depend heavily on this research and also draw on other research areas (e.g. the Human-Computer Interface). It also has links to the arts and humanities.

By the end of the current Delivery Plan, we aim to have:

  • Researchers working in this area who have stronger connections to healthcare professionals, musicians and artists
  • A research portfolio in this area that devotes more attention to hearing research, where it has the potential to make a significant contribution
  • Encouraged acoustic and psycho-acoustic research, so that the area’s portfolio is balanced across its varied aspects.

In its Digital Music Report 2014, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) stated that music is helping to fuel the digital economy (Evidence source 1). In 2015, trade body UK Music estimated that the British music industry had added £4.1 billion to the UK economy (Evidence source 2). Although these figures focus on the music industry, research in the sector also underpins other aspects of the creative industries (e.g. home entertainment systems, gaming, sound production for film, and broadcasting). The research also connects to the arts (as opposed to ‘entertainment’), such as musicology and the humanities generally. It therefore provides an important link between the arts and entertainment communities.

The UK’s Music and Acoustic Technology community is recognised for its international standing and its research attracts collaboration from international companies. A significant number of music-related start-ups also have potential to innovate and keep the UK at the forefront of this field. Research in this area will be important in supporting such companies.

There are two programme grants in this area and also a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT). Between them, they engage with a broad range of the major companies in the music and entertainment sphere, including broadcasters and audio equipment manufacturers. This connection with users is important and mirrored by the hearing research community’s links to manufacturers of hearing aids and related technology.

With regard to the importance of hearing research, 5.3% of the world’s population live with disabling hearing loss, including 32 million children. In the UK, one in six people suffers from hearing loss (i.e. 11 million people) and by 2035 this will rise to one in five (i.e. 15.6 million); there are 45,000 deaf children in this country (Evidence source 3,4).

Current technologies have drawbacks; overcoming them and developing new routes to diagnosis and intervention will mean fostering the interface between researchers studying human hearing on the one hand and engineers on the other. These links are not well represented in this research area’s current portfolio. In addition, there is evidence that, while UK research is still world-class, the number of researchers active in the area is less than in the past. Yet knowledge of human hearing is needed to underpin developments in hearing technology and the creative industries.

This area can contribute to Productive Nation Outcomes by support of music technology to aid performance and of innovation in the creative industries, and to Healthy Nation Outcomes by underpinning healthcare and assistive devices and by aiding education/well-being. Relevant Ambitions include:

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

Research in this area can contribute to better ways of diagnosing and treating hearing problems. Music therapy is an important psychological tool and research in this area can help its delivery.

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

Improving our understanding of human hearing and linking this knowledge to engineers could lead to new aids for hearing.

  1. IFPI, IFPI Digital Music Report 2014 (PDF): Lighting Up New Markets, (2014).
  2. UK Music, Measuring Music 2015, (2015).
  3. Action on Hearing Loss.
  4. World Health Organization, Deafness and Hearing Loss, (2015).

Other source:

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) workshops with Network, Programme and CDT Directors.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Music and Acoustic Technology (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: ICT Theme
Department: ICT
Organisation: EPSRC