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Researcher of the Month

September 2014

Jay Loomis 

Music major, Class of 2015
Angela & Dexter Bailey - URECA Summer 2014 Award recipient 

Research Mentor:   Dr. Margaret Schedel, Dr. Daniel Weymouth, Music; Dr. Lisa Muratori, Dr. Erin Vasudevan, Physical Therapy 

JayLoomisThis spring,  Jay Loomis was selected from the pool of talented URECA summer applicants to receive the inaugural  Angela and Dexter Bailey – URECA award to support his research over the summer. Jay’s project is on “ Real-Time Auditory Feedback for Persons with Parkinson’s Disease: Overcoming Akinesia with Music ” — an interdisciplinary project involving Prof. Margaret Schedel, Prof. Daniel Weymouth of the Department of Musicand the Consortium for Digital Arts, Culture and Technology (cDACT); and Prof. Lisa Muratori, Prof. Erin Vasudevan, and Peter Marcote of the Physical Therapy Department.

The goal of the project is to use sonification to develop individual auditory cues based on gait specific motion analysis data – and to use the information in a biofeedback system so that individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) can use external sound cues to self-correct impaired gait patterns. As part of the preparation for the clinical test phase which will begin this fall, Jay became very familiar with the Lemur app for iPad to design the user interface – and with MAX-MSP software to collect numerical data from the iPad. The team presented their initial research on the interdisciplinary project as a poster at the Music, Mind, Meaning Conference at John Hopkins University this past January; and Jay also presented a poster at URECA’s campus-wide symposium last April.

Currently a music major at SB, Jay came to the project already with a broad array of talents and experiences in hand. His first bachelor’s degree was from Wheaton College, IL where he graduated  cum laude with a bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Studies in 1997. Subsequently between 2000-2008, Jay taught English in Madrid, Spain; Mexico City, Mexico; and Xi' An, China. Jay became seriously involved with music in the early 2000s, when he lived in Madrid and would listen to Irish musicians play in a pub. He took up the bodhrán, as well as the flute; he also started to collect flutes and wind instruments from different parts of the world. Since coming to SB, Jay has been involved with SB theater productions (MacBath, Timon of Athens, Hamlet); Parrish Art Museum openings; and numerous music performances (e.g. jazz combo concerts, SB Composers concert, sonic spring electronic music concert). He is the recipient of the Arthur Lambert Memorial Scholarship for a music student. Last fall, Jay co-performed and presented alongside Tim Vallier a composition called “Limbic Hemispheres”at the  TEDxSBU conference. Jay has also worked as an arts and crafts coordinator at Camp De Wolfe in Wading River; as an Events coordinator at the Craft Center at SB; and recently interned/volunteered at the SBU Freedom School in Summers 2013 and 2014. From 2009 to the present, Jay also worked part-time as a care provider at an AHRC group home for adults with developmental disabilities (including motion and movement disabilities), an experience which prepared him well for the current research project. 

With wide-ranging interests in sonification, music therapy, ethnomusicology, jazz, and instrument construction, Jay currently plans to apply for PhD programs in musicology or ethnomusicology. Below are excerpts of his conversation with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.

Interview excerpts

Karen. What was your URECA project this past summer?
Jay.  This summer, we worked on developing an experiment so that we can determine if people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) can effectively hear differences in sounds—particularly distorted sounds — and then use external cues (sound) to help correct their gait. We designed an experiment where participants use sliders on an iPad to change the amount of distortion they hear while listening to music (Jazz, Bluegrass, Classical, Pop, Rock, Country, Electronic). Our premise is that if people with PD can hear the distortion and correct it by using sliders, then they will also be able to hear the distorted sound as an indication of an abnormality in their gait and correct it by changing the way they are walking. We are nearly ready to do clinical trials with 50 participants.

That sounds ambitious. What are some of the challenges in your work?
We had to figure out how we can make a linear slider on an iPad imitate a non-linear action (a problem with gait). We used the Lemur app for iPad so that the participants can change the amount of distortion that they hear while listening to music. The distorted sound would increase, or decrease, or plateau or disappear altogether depending on where the participants were moving their fingers with the slider. Figuring out how to design the user interface to imitate a person whose gait was getting skewed wasn’t easy — but we did it. The next step after that will be developing testing using external cues for PD patients who are walking on a treadmill.

Have you started the clinical/testing phase of the project?
That’s what we want to do this semester. This past summer we focused on developing the test. We have tests where we have different music, and different ways to distort the music. We can make it sound muffled, really echoey…or we can make it sound staticy- or we can also make it sound like a record player that is skipping. Each one of these different sonic/auditory distortions would be used to indicate a different problem that PD patients can have while they’re walking. We have the tests prepared and now we need to see if people with PD can hear the distortions as well as we can. It will be exciting to start the testing – hopefully it will go as smoothly as we anticipate.

I really wanted to test patients this summer — but in 10 weeks it’s hard to accomplish everything you set out to do. I had to shift my expectations but also see that the experimentation that we developed this summer is an essential step to make the difference in the overall project.   I learned that we need to go step by step.  I guess that patience and perseverance is one of the big things I learned this summer.

How did you first become involved with the project?
My advisor for this project is Prof. Margaret Schedel – and she does a lot with sound and technology (she’s also a composer). I first learned about this project from Tim Vallier, a graduate student in the Music Department. He told me about how they were using sound, motion detectors, to help people with PD improve their gait. Right away I asked Dr. Schedel if I could be involved, because I thought it sounded really interesting… I started reading up on the project, having conversations and then went over the lab – and Dr. Schedel introduced me to Dr. Muratori who runs the Physical Therapy part of the project. This was ~ 3 semesters ago.   And I have really loved being part of this team. It was exciting to see these different perspectives (from Music, from Physical Therapy) come together. 
We met regularly – the whole team--throughout the summer, and at each meeting we set a goal and we met it. And if we didn’t meet it, we figured out how to fix it. The cooperation, the interaction, the rapport – it has all been really great. I liked seeing how a project like this one can bring departments together, and how music can coordinate with the health sciences to improve the quality of life of people with mental and physical disabilities.

What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned?
I’m definitely more of a musician than a scientist. So I was surprised to find out how important one line of data can be in terms of measuring the progress that a person can make while they’re correcting the distorted sound. I remember that at one point when we were collecting numbers to measure where you move the slider, I thought the numbers we had would be enough. But I learned that “No, we need the x and y axis number”….and why these additional numbers were important. It was good for me to see that the scientific mind was different than the musical mind. And that together we could come to an understanding of how the project would work.
Scientists know how to talk to scientists. And musicians know how to talk to musicians. And sometimes, even though we have common vocabularies and there are obviously areas of overlap, it would take a little extra explaining to figure out the different perspectives – from the music side, and from the physical therapy side. But we had clear goals. And we knew what we wanted to accomplish. So as a whole, it worked as an educational research team should work and it has been a great experience for me to be a part of it.

Is it difficult to balance research and classes? 
Yes, it is. Which is why the summer was awesome. The Bailey-URECA grant was super helpful. I didn’t have to work any of my part time jobs which was great. During the semesters, I work at AHRC part time. I also work here on campus in the Craft Center. Sometimes I do some tutoring in Spanish. ( I’m fluent in Spanish, I lived in Spain for several years.)…but I didn’t’ have to do any of that this summer. I could just focus on this project. It takes a lot of time- the reading, the research, the meetings, the preparation. And I had a big learning curve with one program, MaxMSP, an audio-processing program that I needed to use for the project. I really needed the time this summer to really focus on learning all these programs. 
Now that classes have started again, it's very busy.... I have a full load, with two graduate classes and I’m also curating a show at the SAC Gallery this semester. My part time jobs have come back as well… It was a dream having that time over the summer, and the support of the Bailey award, to get further along in the project. 

What are your future plans? 
A PhD in Musicology – or ethnomusicology. I’ve travelled a lot. I taught English in Spain, and Mexico, and China after my first degree. I’m very interested in other cultures and music from other cultures, just different ways that people approach education, music, art– and science too.

Did you foresee having the kind of involvement in an interdisciplinary project when you first came to SB? 
Not at all –but this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I worked at the AHRC 6 years or so. And to think that from music together with science and physical therapy – that we could create a project that some of these people I know personally could benefit from is really exciting.

I decided long ago not to go into medicine, but I have always had one ear/eye in the world of medicine. And I do like to approach the sciences through the arts. Even before I enrolled here, I had been to SB plenty of times with my great uncle who had health problems. We’d go to SB, to the hospital – and it was kind of cool coming back to SB as a student, and being a part of the scientific medical world over here. And then I worked at AHRC and spent a lot of time with people with physical and mental disabilities and had great contact with people who could benefit from something like this. I didn’t expect to be involved in a project like this but when the opportunity came up, I definitely wanted to do it!