Transdisciplinary Challenge Award: 2012


21st Century Voices: Synthesized Speech in the Third Millennium

Yi Hu (Electrical Engineering and Computer Design)

Shelley Lund (Communication Sciences and Disorders)

Patricia Mayes (English)

Heather Warren-Crow (Art and Design)

$200,000 in total funding, over two years

Transdisciplinary Challenge Awardees 2012

Over the last decade there has been an explosion of voice synthesis technology delivered through smartphones, tablets, websites, video games, ATMs, and many other products. This technology also plays a prominent role in the development of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) technologies for people with communication disorders, such as those caused by autism, stroke, or Huntington’s disease. Synthesized voice products, however, are still quite lacking in meeting the needs of people with or without communication disorders in that they still adopt a “one size fits all” strategy, and do not acknowledge how voices reflect a wide variety of racial and cultural identifications and social affiliations, and how those assist in meaning.

For the Transdisciplinary Challenge, the research team will first compile ethnographic information on the use of AAC devices with the attempt to understand better how users understand the relationship between these synthetic voices and their identities. In this process, the team will also determine how the devices can be improved to better meet the needs of people with communication disabilities. Next, with this ethnographic data the team will design and fabricate an iPhone/iPad touchscreen application for synthesized voice, and will use this app as the basis for a live public sound art performance involving participants with and without communication disorders. To be performed as part of UWM’s 2012–2013 Year of the Arts, this experimental choir of synthesized voices will allow the team to identify the limitations of the technology through beta testing, to explore its functionality through creative (mis)use, and to make meaningful connections between sound, subjectivity, and sociality. Information from the performers and audience who interact with the app will provide input to the team in revising the app before releasing it to the public. Finally, the team anticipates that their research can be published in a wide range of scholarly journals, and that their project can provide a useful model for future collaborations between scholars in the humanities, arts, and STEM fields.

“When ‘Speech’ Is Not a ‘Voice,’” UWM feature story

In the photo: clockwise from upper left, Shelley Lund, Heather Warren-Crow, Patricia Mayes, Yi Hu. Photo: Troye Fox.


Intention and Attention: Transmodernism and Integration in Human Movement Studies

Wendy Huddleston (Kinesiology)

Luc Vanier (Dance)

$50,000 in total funding, over two years, to further develop the proposal, find additional scholars to contribute to the project (especially in neuroscience), and to begin pursuing the research

The disparate fields of dance and physical therapy, although both concerned with movement of the human body, have tended to narrow their focus to function only: a dancer learns a series of steps, someone undergoing physical therapy repeats a set of exercises to strengthen a specific part of the body. Both fields, however, need to transform themselves by reconsidering the human body in a more integrated, holistic light.

Toward this end, the project team will look to apply a therapeutic movement technique known as the Alexander Technique to both professional dance and physical therapy disciplines. A 100-year old method, the Alexander Technique focuses one’s intention and attention during movement. The project, interesting enough, will start with language--finding new words and concepts so physical therapists and dancers can exchange knowledge. It will then use this new language to develop dance and treatment practices that focus on movement. Eventually, the project will measure the neurological underpinnings of these techniques through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

"Exploring Movement and the Mind," UWM feature story

Luc Vanier

Luc Vanier with dancer Sarah Bromann. Photo: Natalie Fiol. From Rebecca Nettl-Fiol and Luc Vanier, Dance and the Alexander Technique (University of Illinois Press, 2011).

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