Valerie Hazan is a professor of Speech Sciences at UCL. Her research focuses on ‘speaker-listener interaction’ and analyses of speech that is produced in spontaneous communicative exchanges between speakers (using the diapix technique which inspired diasonix).
My long research career at UCL has been concerned with trying to get a better understanding of how we perceive and produce the sounds of speech, especially in challenging situations (e.g., when speaking a new language, listening with a hearing loss or in less than ideal listening conditions). In the last few years, with my collaborator Outi Tuomainen, I have used a picture-based ‘spot the difference’ problem-solving task, Diapix, to elicit and then analyse natural, yet controlled, conversations between pairs of participants in different listening environments. We have used this approach in studies with participants aged 8 to 85, as well as with second-language speakers, and children and adults with hearing loss. We have investigated the strategies that speakers adopt to maintain effective communication in challenging situations, and also how these strategies vary with age, language background and hearing status.
When Thor approached me with the idea of developing an auditory version of Diapix, I was intrigued and excited! Would the task be more challenging when you have to find differences in the auditory rather than visual domain? How easy do we find it to describe small differences in sound? While the sound artists were developing their beautiful soundscapes, I was noticing how attuned I was becoming to the sounds around me during lockdown while working in my office at home. A goldfinch regularly perched itself on a TV aerial on a roof nearby and sang loudly while I worked. I often stopped what I was doing to go and look at it and marvel at the beauty of the singing.
Being involved in this art-science collaboration will broaden my research in many ways. The Diasonix task itself, with its soundscapes recorded during the lockdown, is likely to elicit much more natural and emotive interactions than have been obtained from the Diapix picture task carried out in a laboratory setting. It will also hopefully be a way to engage a much broader range of participants.