Dr. Tim Polashek Sounds Off With Hearing Loss: Professor Furthers Field In a Unique Way

by Alex Keys
Contributing Writer

Dr. Tim Polashek has never been able to take his sense of sound for granted.

Dr. Tim Polashek created a program in 2005, Beyond Babble, which could make music out of sounds which normally convey no meaning.

Born in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Dr. Polashek’s academic résumé closely mimics that of most musical technicians. Inspired by his experience as a high school musician, he pursued a career in music, obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College and his master’s in electro-acoustic music at Dartmouth College. Eventually, Polashek earned his doctorate in composition from Columbia University.

However, there is one significant fact that distinguishes Dr. Polashek from many others who have earned musical doctorates – he has needed hearing aids for his entire life.

In the first grade, Polashek’s teachers began noticing his irregular behavior. At times, he would speak at a volume unnecessarily loud for the classroom and in some instances communication errors would cause disagreements between Polashek and his classmates. Soon afterward, he was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss and given a single hearing aid. In high school, he received his first pair of hearing aids.

“I was in stereo,” Polashek said. “It was like a whole new world.”

As a music technology professor, Polashek’s studies have a direct relationship to his daily life. Many years after studying electro-acoustic music at Dartmouth, he began using digital hearing aids, which literally allow him to experience the technology in action. His current hearing aids feature a music setting that functions much like the mastering process for digital music. By switching this setting on, he is able to hear live music as if it were filtered through a mixing board, a technological phenomena only recently available.
In fact, as he ages, hearing aid technology only gets more advanced; while most people gradually lose their hearing, Polashek’s gets a little better every decade.
Polashek’s hearing loss has afforded him a rare perspective on the science of sound, beginning at an early age. As a child, he would constantly have trouble recognizing specific speech patterns. While the literal meaning behind conversations or lectures would frequently go unrecognized by his aural senses, Polashek paid closer attention to the rhythm and tone of the human voice. He explained that, because speech often became music in his ears, he could not help but develop an interest in the art form.
In his words, musicians with hearing loss are “drawn to it [music] because you have to think about it a little more.”
This unique perception of sound, as well as his interests in science, engineering and music, has led him to think about hearing loss intellectually and artistically. In 2005, Dr. Polashek published “Beyond Babble,” an article elaborating upon his perception of sound and introducing his Beyond Babble computer program. By following a scientific equation, the program synthesizes music and poetry similar to the nonsensical music that his sense of hearing often produces in reaction to human conversation.
Polashek said that the program produces “an artificial, or constructed, language, created for an artistic purpose.”
By combining traditional music, technological theory and his personal experiences with sound, Polashek has created something entirely original.

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One Response to Dr. Tim Polashek Sounds Off With Hearing Loss: Professor Furthers Field In a Unique Way

  1. Emil Polashek says:

    I wonder how the use of hearing aids affected Dr. Polashek’s undergraduate career in football at Grinnell College.

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