They compose soundscapes based on personal bio- and environmental data, or deliver individual music as medicine: the audio algorithms of the start-ups Endel and HealthTunes help people sleep more deeply, work more precisely - and alleviate diseases.
Fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two... do you also know this situation, when you again count silently to yourself at night and imagine in your mind's eye how many sheep are still grazing in the pasture? Night after night you lie in your bed, which you got into dog-tired, but never really get to rest?
There are well over 30 million people who suffer from sleep disorders in Germany. But you can be helped - with the latest audio software. More precisely: with applications that create personalised sound worlds thanks to clever and innovative use of artificial intelligence (AI). More specifically, computer-generated soundscapes help body and mind to concentrate on a task, fall asleep more easily or alleviate depression.
Series “Earware": How does audio tech help in fitness and health?
This text is part one of our series on the question: How can technology help us live healthier lives via our sense of hearing or voice?
Part 1 - Audio bio-feedback: How audio interfaces make us more aware of the body
Part 2 - Audio tech as therapy: AI-composed music helps you sleep, relax or focus
Part 3 - Audio diagnostics: As I speak, health AI makes a diagnosis (coming soon)
Start-up Endel: finding peace with soundsOne of these providers is the Berlin-based startup Endel from two Russian founders, Oleg Stavitsky and Vladislav Pinskij. Their idea was recently praised by experts as a "comprehensive approach to stress reduction for better sleep".
The New York Times has taken notice of the app, which has achieved well over two million downloads. Ever since the artist Grimes started working with the start-up, it has been the talk of the town globally. Grimes, who is the partner of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, produced her album 'Al Lullaby' exclusively for Endel. The music was composed to help babies and adults alike fall asleep.
But first things first: Endel wants its technology to respond - simply put - to the overstimulation of our bodies. Stress and many more things do us no good. To counteract this and get us to sleep better, relax or concentrate, algorithms generate their own personal soundscapes according to individual user input. "The more of this the system gets, the better results it achieves," explains CEO Stavitsky.
The app records the user's biorhythm: is he asleep, active, stressed or focused? The generated soundscapes of the Endel app support the corresponding phases of this rhythm. They are designed to help us relax during moments of stress or to help us concentrate during energy highs. In addition to heart-rate and movement, the app also takes the user's environmental data - such as the weather - into account in its compositions.
"In our sleep mode, we use different approaches. We create sounds in certain frequency ranges that can change the cognitive state of the listener," says Nadja Yurinova, Endel’s CMO, sharing insight into the technology. For individual playout, Endel’s app has four different 'programmes'/modes:
- The Relax setting is designed to calm the mind, creating a sense of wellbeing as well as balance.
- Focus ensures that we sustainably increase our productivity as well as stamina and concentration.
- The third setting, Sleep, ideally lulls us to sleep with gentle sounds.
- There is also an On the Go mode for going for a walk.
Pinskij, who is Co-Managing Director, is certain that Endel's journey of development is far from over. "We are currently working with two of the world's leading car manufacturers to install an Endel button in the car. A popular loudspeaker supplier will also soon integrate Endel into its products," he says, adding that the company will also be working with other internationally renowned musicians.
Start-up Health Tunes: music as medicineIt's not far from Elon Musk to Hollywood. And there, too, you can find worlds of sound that are supposed to ignite healing effects. Star composer Walter Werzowa developed Health Tunes, a non-profit streaming platform that aims to alleviate illnesses with the help of music, thereby opening up new therapeutic options.
Werzowa, who comes from a family of doctors, intensively studied the effects of audio worlds on a person's health as part of a psychology degree. In the process, he discovered studies that proved music could have a healing effect on Alzheimer's, pain, depression and addictions. For example, he said, Harvard University research showed how singing helped even after a stroke: "Patients can sing `I feel good' after three weeks - but they can't say it." That confirmed his commitment to taking action in that direction himself: founding Health Tunes - with far-reaching success.
"Stars and artists such as Moby support us as well as the University of California, Los Angeles. We have begun a co-operation in Vienna General Hospital and many clinics are now using HealthTunes. We also work with the big companies in oncology," Werzowa reports. In the meantime, about 30 people are employed for the platform, which is available to all users free of charge.
The Health Tunes database grew out of patients' experiences and requests for specific music and sound therapies. "What we offer has evidence-based clinical research as its foundation. As with medications, where one thing doesn't fit every disease, the degree of effectiveness of music for Alzheimer's, for example, is quite different than for chronic pain." Health Tunes therefore seeks to tap into a patient's long-term memory. So, it focuses on a life period when music can be an important part of people‘s development: "That's usually between the ages of 15 and 22, when music is one of the most important parts of life and most deeply imprinted in our memory."
Walter Werzowa: "Classical marches help Parkinson's patients to walk"
To keep it technically simple, the structure of the platform follows a clear pattern for the user: listen to what you like. "That's why individual diversity is very important to us," says Werzowa. On the platform itself, users do not search for a composer or performer - with lasting success: "Our streaming audio service offers various sound and music therapies that - clinically proven - achieve improvements in physical and mental health," he explains. For that to happen, however, music users must listen to what they like: "If you don't like listening to jazz, a jazz playlist doesn't make sense for you."
In the long term, Werzowa and his team would like to be a strong partner for large companies: "Google, Amazon, JPMorgan want to do a lot in the medical field and start new health initiatives. We're trying to connect with them to push music as a healing element." The pharmaceutical industry also needs new ways "of really helping people," he says. He also keeps his sights on the long-term goal: "We have to find ways to become healthier," the composer continues determinedly. With Health Tunes, a start has been made.