Sound and Music Therapies
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sunderland
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeHealth
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Summary of the impact
Professor Phil Ellis' research is focused on developing therapies for
children with special needs (including autism), and the elderly in
residential homes, sheltered accommodation and day care. He has been
involved in establishing iMUSE rooms in a range of institutions, such as
special schools, specialist institutions for autism, day care centres, and
an NHS intensive care centre. His work has also involved knowledge
transfer to enable partner organizations to use the techniques he has
developed, along with appropriate supporting technology.
Professor Phil Ellis' has been engaged in field-based research in Sound
and Music Therapies since 1992. This research has seen him develop
sound-based interventions for children with cerebral palsy (CP), profound
and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) and for elderly participants in
Since 1998, his work has been concerned with the effects of employing
vibro-acoustic devices which allow sound to be experienced as auditory and
tactile sensation via vibrations, and, since 2004, using a variety of
graphical representations of sound and movement to provide a higher degree
of immersion for participants.
Professor Ellis' work also addresses a need identified in 2005 by several
institutions of the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL)
Music and Inclusivity (2005 - 2010) by providing new professional
development opportunities in the specialist area of vibro-acoustic sound
therapy and thus adding to provision of opportunities for creative and
enabling work (with, for example, children with special needs, and the
elderly and mentally infirm) which can be accessed by both undergraduate
and postgraduate students.
In 2006, Ellis established, The iMUSE
research centre (interactive multi-sensory environments) at the University
of Sunderland. This initiative had three aims: to aid the development of
new therapeutic techniques; increase the accessibility to creative
experience through an interactive music/arts installation for the elderly
and those with special needs; and to provide professional development
opportunities in the specialist area of vibro-acoustic sound therapy.
In 2008, the Linbury Trust provided funding for further research and
development into new participant interfaces for elderly, frail and
mentally infirm people to control elements of iMUSE.
Dr Lieselotte van Leeuwen (2005-2011) joined the iMUSE project in 2005 as
senior researcher. She is a senior lecturer in psychology at the
University of Sunderland. Her work focuses on the development of
perception and action. She continues to apply this expertise within
interdisciplinary teams developing explorative and expressive environments
for children with sensory problems and ASD. Emphasis in her research lies
on enabling user-centered design. She was involved in several European IST
projects between 1998 and 2003.
Kenneth Brown (2006-2011) joined the iMUSE team as a Research Assistant
in 2006. He specializes in Music Technology, having gained an MA with
Distinction in the subject at the Sonic Arts Research Centre in Belfast in
2004, after having worked as a software and hardware developer in the
electronics industry for a number of years. Previous projects include a
Max/MSP/Jitter sound spatialisation system with a user interface
comprising of hand-held light-emitting `pens'.
iMUSE is part of the Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL)
for Music and Inclusivity. The CETL is a regional consortium of
music and performing arts departments from six universities in the North
East of the UK, which provide courses focusing on music and inclusivity
for the shared audience of students at the partner universities.
References to the research
Ellis, P., & van Leeuwen, L. (2009). Confronting the Transition:
Improving Quality of Life for the Elderly with an Interactive Multisensory
Environment — a Case Study. HCII09 Conference Proceedings.
Ellis, P., van Leeuwen, L., & Brown, K. (2008). Visual-Music
Vibrations — Improving quality of life for the elderly and children with
special needs. Digital Creativity, Routledge, ISSN 1462-6268.
Van Leeuwen, L., & Ellis, P. (2007). Facilitating the experience of
agency through an intersensory interactive environment. Digital
Creativity, 18 (2), Routledge, ISSN 1462-6268.
Ellis, P. (2006). Improving Well-Being and Quality of Life for the
Elderly through Vibroacoustic Sound Therapy. In Prause-Weber (Ed) Musica —
re serva verum gaudium, ISME Publications, pp155-171, 0-9752063-5-4.
Ellis, P. (2004). Moving Sound. In Gallagher & Maclachlan (Eds),
Enabling Technologies: Body, Image and Function, Churchill Livingstone.
Ellis, P. (2004). Caress. In Siraj-Blatchford (Ed.), Developing new
technologies for children, Trentham Books, pp113 — 137, ISBN
Phil Ellis, The Linbury IMUSE Development Project, 2008-2010: £20,000,
Phil Ellis, Sound and Music Therapies, Centre of Excellence in Teaching
and Learning (CETL) for Music
and Inclusivity, 2005-2010: £229,500
Details of the impact
Professor Ellis' work involves a significant range of both on-campus and
off-campus activity. He has been involved in establishing iMUSE rooms in a
range of institutions, such as special schools, specialist institutions
for autism, day care centres, and an NHS intensive care centre. His work
has also involved knowledge transfer to enable partner organizations to
use the techniques he has developed, along with appropriate supporting
His research projects have looked at:
- Developing new digital interfaces for children with special needs
- Tactile Interactive Multimedia for children with hearing impairment
and visual impairment, including the blind and deaf
- Developing interactive multi-sensory environments (iMUSE) for the
elderly in long-term care, to develop new interfaces to give control to
elderly, frail and mentally infirm people.
iMUSE research is carried out in association with schools and care homes
in the community, and also at the Sound Therapy Lab installed at the
University of Sunderland in 2006, which was supported by funding from the
regional Centre for Excellence
in Teaching and Learning 'Music and Inclusivity'.
The Sound Therapy Lab provides a customized environment for one-to-one
interactive sessions. Participants can:
- engage with the multi-sensory environment according to their needs and
preferences, either sitting in a chair, wheelchair, on a beanbag or the
- control mutually related sound, visuals and vibrations by using their
voice or body movements.
A typical one-to-one iMUSE session takes about 30 minutes. Participants
are seated in a vibro-acoustic chair, which transforms sound into
vibration. Additionally, sound can be transferred into complex changing
visual patterns through visualization software, such as G-Force, Arkaos,
etc. The graphical feedback is projected on to a screen in front of the
participant. iMUSE interactions have been shown to support: expression,
communication, aesthetic resonance, awareness of control, exploration and
During iMUSE sessions for children with special needs the following
progression has been observed:
During iMUSE sessions for elderly in long-term care, the following
progression has been observed:
At Hollybank school in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, they have built a
dedicated iMUSE room for their residential and part time young people and
adults with disabilities. The importance of the iMUSE initiative is
confirmed by Hollybank's Creative Project Development Manager:
`iMUSE has revolutionized what we do for young people and adults within
the trust. It has opened up a whole new world in which the children and
adults can compose, own, communicate and just explore themselves. Its just
been amazing the difference and the change that's happened with our folks
here. It's been wonderful, really wonderful...' (May, 2008).
The Percy Hedley Foundation, a charitable organization based in Tyne and
Wear, who provide a wide range of services to children, young people and
adults with disabilities, have also recently installed an iMuse studio at
the Linskill Centre, in North Shields. The Adult Service Manager says it
helps to empower people: `It allows the individual to take control of the
environment. It's all about control and empowerment. This studio
represents a major move forward in the options available to people with
profound and complex needs, not only to participate in an enjoyable music
and relaxation session, but to develop and produce beautiful art work,
which not only provides creative expression for the individual, but also
has the potential to provide real employment opportunities for individuals
to promote and sell their work through the development of our new social
enterprise and employability projects' (8 September, 2011).
The Schools Network's Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities
Research Project cites iMUSE as an example of good practice in
'Supporting emotional wellbeing' and 'Creativity for students with CLDD'.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Corroborating Sources (also see section 4 for quotations from
Professor Ellis's work is widely cited as a pioneer in his field by
health care and music therapy professionals, for example:
- Ground Breaking New Technology Provides Therapy, Education and
Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities in Tyne and Wear.
- Interactive Therapeutic Multi-Sensory Environment for Cerebral Palsy
- Positive Health Online: http://www.positivehealth.com/article/sound-and-music/sound-as-an-alternative-to-traditional-medical-therapy
- Valley View is a care home situated near Sunderland specialising in
dementia care. Since 2006 aproximately 15 residents have been involved
in iMUSE research.
- Hollybank is a trust managing residential care homes for disabled
adults and children in the Yorkshire area. http://centres.sunderland.ac.uk/imuse/sessions/children/hollybank-imuse-sessions/#d.en.17616.
Stewart Geddes, Hollybank
Trust, May 2008.
- Auckland Homes in Sunderland provides sheltered accommodation for the
- BBC Newcastle, Phil Ellis Interview, 23 November, 2009
- BBC Newcastle, New iMuse studio in memory of Rob Luke, 23 November,
- The Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) Music and
Inclusivity 2005 - 2010
- Filmed Sessions/Testimonials