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St. Vincent and Peter Gabriel are advising medical music initiative The Sync Project

St. Vincent and Peter Gabriel are advising medical music initiative The Sync Project


Jon Hopkins and Esa-Pekka Salonen are also joining Marko Ahtisaari's ambitious venture

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Shervin Lainez

Peter Gabriel, St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark), Jon Hopkins, and Esa-Pekka Salonen are going to help The Sync Project — the initiative headed up by former Nokia design head Marko Ahtisaari — explore the future of musical medicine. The four musicians are joining the collaborative venture as advisors, roles that'll necessitate working with the scientists researching music's therapeutic properties and helping to raise the project's awareness. While they represent a wide range of musical styles and experiences — Gabriel and Clark are art-rock veterans, Hopkins is an accomplished electronic producer, and Salonen conducts the London Philharmonia Orchestra — Ahtisaari is more interested in their value as thinkers than their musical bona fides.

"We're very much looking for musicians and creators who have an active relationship with technology," says Ahtisaari. "I felt that was a common denominator for everyone, in slightly different ways... It wasn't so much about the contents of the music, or to commission any work. These are creative thinkers — let's involve them." Ahtisaari had preexisting relationship with Gabriel and Salonen that facilitated their involvement, and he reached out to Hopkins and Clark after consulting with Gabriel, Salonen, and others. "We meet regularly to discuss the product, we show prototypes, we design together. We're engaging them as creative product thinkers."

"We're building a biometric recommendation engine for music"

The product in question is wildly ambitious: musical treatment programs for medical conditions that match the efficacy of drug-based treatment without subjecting patients to the dangers and side effects of pharmacological programs. Ahtisaari cites treatment for Parkinson's disease as an example. Users could contribute data from their streaming service of their choice and sensors from their phones or wearable devices that characterize their physical response to certain music. Collected in bulk, that data could inform more specific clinical trials testing the effects of various musical qualities on patient mobility. (The project is already conducting several small trials.) The final result would be a personalized playlist, one that aids movement and changes with the patient's activity. "We're building a biometric recommendation engine for music," says Ahtisaari.

The project's musical advisors can't shape its medical aspects, but Ahtisaari is hoping they can help push the conversation regarding music's therapeutic potential forward among both musicians and listeners. "We don't know of any other companies who are bringing scientists and artists together to think about this topic," says Ahtisaari. If the project remains on track, its first major test is on the horizon: Ahtisaari is planning on opening up participation in certain studies to the public later this year.