Can’t Sleep App Live Now

by | Jul 8, 2018 | Uncategorized

The story of Can’t Sleep

As a composer, I’ve always had a passion for evoking and experiencing emotions through music. I trained in western classical music theory because I wanted to understand the tools a composer can use to express themselves. This lead me to film music and late romantic classical music because these styles present the height of emotional musical expression. My favourite film composers being Bernard Herrmann who composed for Alfred Hitchcock. I studied music composition at the Victorian College of the Arts and University of Melbourne in Australia specialising in film, orchestration and harmony to further understand musical expression. Something that wasn’t part of my study but really fascinated me was the psychology of music. I knew experientially that music helped me get through the day but was surprised to find research papers on the topic. Specifically what interested me was how music can be used as an everyday tool to aid people. This was the starting point that lead towards the Can’t Sleep.

After completing my undergraduate with newfound interest in music psychology and music as a utility, I was curious to see how music can help anyone. I discovered that different music can help improve workplace productivity, reduce listener stress and improve sleep. These three areas all fascinated me, specifically that something so enjoyable could be so effective. I felt however that music is a personal experience, that one piece of prescribed music couldn’t just work for everyone like medicine (and research supports this). My background in “interactive” composition drove me to investigate strategies to engage the listener beyond pressing play. To allow for this personalization I knew the music would need to be composed in realtime using generative algorithmic processes. The most impactful platform for this style of interactive and generative music is a smartphone app. This became my honours project at the Victorian College of the Arts.

My honours program was a very busy but productive year. I learnt how to code generative music on android and read through the literature on music for encouraging relaxation. I studied under evolutionary musicologist “Joseph Jordania”, the focus was first to understand how sound informed our ancestor mood and how these ancient perceptions impact the way we engage with music. For example our ancestors had to be aware of the loud, short and distorted warning calls of animals which is not so different to the attention grabbing trumpet blasts in film music. Also our unchanged physiology, such as how our hearing is more sensitive to high frequencies, which is why a piccolo flute can be heard above a very loud orchestra. The psychology of music perception answered many of my questions through potential mechanisms and theories suggesting how and why we experience compositional techniques in certain ways. For the honours assessment I presented the generative music app on android and my research into compositional strategies to encourage relaxation. I received first class honours which allowed for further study into the psychology of music.

I was accepted into the University of New South Wales to undertake a Doctor of Philosophy under the supervision of Emery Schubert, a music psychologist who has achieved a lot in the field of music and emotion. The first question I wanted to answer was how I can stop ambient music becoming boring through generative processes. More specifically “how can I make music engaging enough to avoid being boring but not too engaging that it will keep people distracted”. I looked into a couple of different theoretical models, ran a study with 120 participants and found a point where a listener would recognise that the music is changing but not be overwhelmed by variation. This finding was able to be translated into the app.

It was from this research that I really recognised how different the music would need to be for each state (focus, relaxation and sleep). Music needed to be much less engaging for sleep and for focus or relaxation, so I needed to niche. I ran in-depth market analysis and discovered how severely sleep deprived our society is and saw an opportunity to help inadequate sleepers. Unfortunately, the market was already flooded with gimmicks (e.g. Mozart for sleep or Delta wave deep sleep baroque) and then decided that to stand out in this field I would need to ensure that the app is positioned from a very scientific approach. The next step was to read through and analyse all the literature on music as a sleep aid. I found over 50 papers which used music as a sleep aid and 50 others on music psychology. I then compiled and began writing the mechanisms by which music aids sleep quality. I re-branded the app as Can’t Sleep App and implement these music psychology principles into the app with the greatest rigour possible.

Where is the app now? At the end of last year began the development of the music system for the Can’t Sleep App. Just recently we were accepted into Queensland University of Technology’s Collider Accelerator Program. As you are aware, you can download the Can’t Sleep App now!