Dr Trevor Agus
Queen's University Belfast (UK)
Trevor always enjoyed making music but as an antisocial teenager, would have preferred to make it alone with a computer. A decade later, computers were commonplace and he realised he was no longer limited by the technology, but by lack of knowledge about how to generate the sounds he wanted to hear. Returning to education (MSc in Music Technology, University of York), he learnt that this lack of knowledge was not his alone. Thus began a quest to understand the perception of sound.
He spent his PhD years (MRC Institute of Hearing Research, Glasgow) investigating whether elderly listeners’ ability to understand speech in challenging backgrounds was limited by their ageing ears alone or also by “cognitive slowing”. (In controlled experiments, it always seemed to be their ears.) As a post-doc (Ecole normale supérieure, Paris) he investigated what features we use to recognise complex sounds. In one strand, he showed that reactions to a simple sung vowel were slowed unless both its spectrum and temporal information were intact. In a second strand, he showed that naïve listeners could quickly learn to recognise individual snippets of white noise. He is still drilling down to work out what features they learn in the noise.