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I See Music

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Each line and box in this digitized landscape is converted to a tone, conveying the picture in music.

Courtesy John Cronly-Dillon

John Cronly-Dillon, a neuroscientist at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in England, plans to open the eyes of the blind with sound using a computer system that translates visual images into musical tones. A horizontal line is a rapidly repeated single note, a vertical line is a chord, and oblique lines are represented by ascending or descending scales. For more complicated settings, Cronly-Dillon adds voices to represent the different aspects of an intricate scene, thereby creating a musical melody that he compares to a baroque fugue. "We're developing a basic language," he says, "an 'Esperanto of the senses.' "In test runs, Cronly-Dillon's four blind subjects are able to decipher static pictures of houses, cars, trees, and lampposts. He foresees the day when the blind will navigate landscapes with the aid of a portable video camera linked to a tiny computer that converts sights into visually meaningful sounds.

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