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MIT, Berklee to host music and technology challenge

Music, health and technology will converge this Friday through Sunday at a hackathon hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Berklee College of Music.

At the hackathon located at District Hall in Boston’s Seaport District, students and professionals will collaborate to explore ways technology can enhance music and health, such as in the treatment of chronic pain.

Lori Landay, a professor of cultural studies at Berklee, wrote in an email that through a partnership between the Berklee Music and Health Institute, the life science company MilliporeSigma and the Hacking Medicine Institute, participants in this challenge will brainstorm ideas concerning how music and technology can help mental health.

When we use technology to develop devices and tools that bring music to health care providers, it becomes a transformative combination,” Landay wrote.

Landay wrote music and mental health are related because of the way music is connected with human emotions.

Music therapy has been proven to improve [a] patient’s quality of life, and is used to manage pain, side of effects of treatment, and stress,” Landay wrote. “Just think about how different kinds of music make you feel and you start to understand the powerful relationship between music and mental health.”

The hackathon, titled the “Music and Health Innovation Challenge,” aims to develop new collaborations, Landay explained. The ultimate goal is to help people with music and technology.

“The goal of any hackathon is to learn and meet new people while you develop what the teams can in the time you have,” Landay wrote. “New collaborations come out of hackathons that often lead to projects that are developed fully.”

According to the Music and Health Hackathon website, the program allocated $60,000 to grant to promising projects with promising ideas. Attendees also will have the potential opportunities to participate in an extended mentorship program with a team of experts and to appear at Boston’s HUBweek, an annual art, science and technology festival.

Joy Allen, the chair of music therapy at Berklee, said she believes the Hackathon will help students think creatively.

“This one is unique in that it really brings such a cross-sectional team of different experts,” Allen said. “We’ve got people in technology, engineering, medical, biotech and the music industry working together.”

Allen said music therapists have been effective because they are able to use musical elements that people respond to emotionally

“All of us respond to music in some way, shape or form,” Allen said. “We can use those same elements within music to affect our health, and music therapists have been working in hospitals for years.”

With a wide variety of innovators, this type of hackathon is the first of its kind, according to its website. The diverse group of students and specialists in attendance will use music to help take on topics such as treating of chronic pain, creating safe spaces for dementia patients and decreasing stress.

Emerson College student Lizzi Upson, 21, said she thinks the findings from the hackathon could have significant impacts.

“I think it would be really cool if something successful comes out of this,” Upson said. “I think it would be amazing if something as simple as music that everyone our age listens to all the time could actually have a significant impact on the way people think.”

Areg Danagoulian, an assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT who lives in Brighton, said he is unsure musicians and psychologists working together is ideal, but he believes the issue of mental health is important enough for a $60,000 grant.

“I teach at MIT, and I observe very high levels of stress. Some people refer to this as an epidemic,” Danagoulian said. “But clearly, there’s a lack of understanding as to why this is happening.”

Alex Elwell, 28, of Allston, said he is interested in the correlation between music and technology.

“I’m a musician myself,” Elwell said. “I know music therapy has come along fairly recently, so I’m curious to see how it’s going to relate to that.”

Allston resident Hannah Hudson, 24, said she believes the innovative challenge could foster important and necessary ideas.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of things that the university would want to allocate that money to,” Hudson said. “But I think that is something worth investing in.”

One Comment

  1. Thank you Nyah for your article. Some great innovating going on today at the Music + Health Hackathon. Such an inspired group of hackers from music, science, technology and healthcare. Can’t wait to see what they come up with!