Abbey Road Red Talk: Functional Music & Wellness

Abbey Road Red Talk: Functional Music & Wellness

23rd June 2019
Abbey Road Red, the studios' audio tech incubator, hosted it's latest #RedTalk last week. Entitled ‘Functional Music & Wellness’ the Red team invited key speakers and start-up founders to talk about the rise of functional music and the increasingly accepted role of music to address physical, psychological and cognitive issues.

Red welcomed a diverse group of guests, spanning different sectors from the music and tech industries to the UK healthcare sector and charities focused on mental health and wellbeing. The aim, as always with Red Talks, was to share learnings in the space and break down into a large group discussion towards the end.

Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya

First of our key speakers was Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya of Goldsmiths University. Joy is Professor of Psychology and the Director of Research in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, and also leads the departmental Research Group of Cognitive and Neuroscience.Red invited Joy as he takes a keen interest in public engagement of academic research, with his research regularly featured by the BBC, Guardian, New Scientist and Economist amongst others.

Joy explained that within the last 10 years the number of publications around the science of music therapy has vastly increased showing increasing interest and attention on music being used in preventative or therapeutic situations.
Joy explained how, as well as modulating the Brain-Heart link “music is the only stimulus that lights up all four core structures of the brain” and talked our guests through how music affects human cognition and shared some of his underlying research to support the impact musical stimuli can have on humans. This transmodality of music is unique, in that it couples perception, cognition, action and emotion.
Music has also been shown to directly correlate with a reduction in beta oscillations, reducing stress, and an increase in theta oscillations, an indicator of a deep, relaxed state and influences our decision-making processes. Whereas it’s hard to influence physiological states with harmony and melody consistently across different people, as reactions can be subjective, we as humans show a disposition towards consistent entrainment by rhythms, particularly beats, and we share this as a species with cockatoos!

Mendel Kaelen, Founder and CEO of start-up Wavepaths

Second to the floor was Mendel Kaelen, Founder and CEO of start-up Wavepaths. Mendel is on a mission with Wavepaths to create both real and virtual sanctuaries for personal growth, using sound and light to affect wellness. Wavepath Sanctuaries employ “adaptive /generative environments that respond to your emotional and physiological states” creating highly-personalised experiences for each individual user.

Wavepaths worked with Brian Eno on the musical compositions and light displays, whilst L-Acoustics provided a 23-speaker spatial audio playback system powered by L-ISA. This allowed for sound to be ‘moved’ around the user, which provides a heightened auditory experience beyond conventional stereo panning or traditional 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound.
Mendel explained “Music is a hidden therapist” and that “Wavepaths spaces are designed as secular sanctuaries, offering calm retreats from modern life’s demands and a supportive environment for deep introspection”. Mendel reminded the audience that music has been around much longer than we tend to think, with evidence showing musical instruments from older than 40,000 years ago, and was a form of proto-language that preceded real language.

Wavepaths are an example of a start-up taking the theory into reality and offering a solution where technology can be harnessed to improve wellness. After the sell-out success of Wavepath’s pop-up space, two new spaces are being built before the end of 2019. The team are also working on accessible software applications that leverage the transformative potential of immersive media with neuroscience and intelligent technologies to improve emotional wellbeing.

Karim Fanous, Abbey Road Red’s Innovation Manager

Next up was Abbey Road Red’s Innovation Manager, Karim Fanous, who put the discussion in context with current trends in the music industry. Three converging trends are driving us forward into a world of everyday music experiences designed to work in harmony with, or influence, our physiological states:

1) An increased trend towards lean-back listening and activity-based music searches

2) A trend towards hyper-personalisation in our music experiences and recommendations

3) The emergence of adaptive and generative music, driven by algorithms and artificial intelligence

All of these trends sit on top of realtime data feedback loops that enable experiences and services to tailor the music in response to listening patterns, biometric and other contextual bits of data.

Fanous highlighted two key moments in the space this year:

Moby releasing an album of sleep-related tracks via the Calm app; and Warner Music signing a distribution deal with adaptive music platform, Endel, to distribute albums to Spotify, the first five of which are sleep-themed. He also pointed to a crop of startups operating in the area, including Red’s own alumnus, adaptive music platform LifeScore, and others including Muvik Labs, SingFit, Mubert and Studio Amplify.

Kokoon is a hardware/software platform creating headphones with EEG and motion sensors that monitor sleep and supply adaptive noise and music that evolves in-line with data feedback to help induce and maintain sleep.

VR For Therapy

We then took a side-step into virtual reality and the increasing use of VR for therapeutic uses to treat conditions such as phobias, PTSD, pain alleviation and dementia care. Last year the NIHR received £4million to kickstart a project exploring the use of VR therapy, led by Prof. Daniel Freeman, Professor of Psychiatry at Oxford University. Trials are currently being launched.

One of Red’s recent incubator graduates Broomx, whose MKplayer360 audiovisual projection system decouples VR from the headset, has been working in this space, giving us a window into how VR can be used positively for dementia care. It is currently running a series of clinical tests with Crosswater Digital in Canada to use the MKplayer360 to reduce medication dosages using personalised VR content played through the MKplayer360. The combination of virtual reality experiences with functional music will hopefully take these therapies to the next level.


The discussion then broke into the room after we invited artist and innovator Tom Middleton to take the stage and share some of his experiences making functional music and music for sleep. The consensus was that there is lots of activity in this space from academic research to start-up launches, but it’s early days.

To make serious scientific progress there needs to be an increase in the size of experimental and control groups and more data needs to be gathered. When major tech players with wide ecosystems from content delivery platforms to biometric wearables fuelled by millions of daily users, get into the space, say an Apple, this technology should be positioned to take the next leap.

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