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Charles on… anything that comes along

Monday 1 December 2008

Filed under: — Charles @ 3:43 pm

Cochlear implants: what it sounds like for someone who gets one

A fascinating Radio 4 program in the “It’s My Story” series: “Earfull” (stored on Odeo; I hope it survives). First played on 28 November 2008, and telling the story - by an actor aged in his, I think, 60s - going through a cochlear implant. He went deaf in his 20s, and now after four decades (including a life spent as an actor, despite not being able any more to hear dialogue) he is having an implant.

I’m listening to it. Fascinating. He’s talking about having the operation to do the implant and then going to a party the next evening saying “Sorry, can’t stay long, I’ve had brain surgery!” (Except of course that an implant isn’t.)

Including recordings made inside the operating theatre, I have to warn you. “We’re literally operating less than one millimetre away from the facial nerve.”

The experience of actually using the implant happens at about 18:30. He’s a charming man, so happy and amused by the process.

And at 22.45 - you hear a representation of his voice as it comes through the implant. I suspect that it’s processed to make it sound processed, but it does give you an idea of what it’s like. (I suspect it’s normal speech split into 128 channels - which is roughly what it would be like.)

His reaction: “I’ve been playing a deaf character - which I’ve never been able to do before because I couldn’t hear!”

As a reminder of other syntheses of hearing with an implant, there’s the PBS series from a while ago that was presented by Alan Alda. (Requires QuickTime plugin.)

Follow the links to hear their syntheses of sound as hear through a cochlear implant (starting with 1 channel, then 4 channels, then 16 channels, and 22 channels) - and how it gets better and better. These are quite old now by modern standards - we’re up to 128 (virtual) channels on, I think, all the manufacturers. Better lies ahead. (Note: the PBS site can be slow to load.)

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