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From idea to Soulight - The journey so far

By: Diwakar Thakore
On: 17th October 2014
Organisation name: Musemantik
Project name: A Mobile Wellness Assistant

Depression is the most common healthcare problem in the United Kingdom- 1 in 5 UK Adults suffer from depression at some point in their life. NHS UK estimates the economic cost of depression to be over £105 billion each year, including treatment costs, lost productivity at work and reduced quality of life.

But this serious condition is just the tip of the iceberg, there are many more who suffer mutely from non-clinical depression and weak emotional wellbeing, imposing a much higher burden to society than currently quantified.

Current pharmacological and psychological treatments are only capable of reducing disease burden by about a third. These limitations are due to recognition limitation, diagnostic methods, patient self-denial, stigma, and fear. Self-help tools, which are software based, hold the potential to be very helpful (73% are helpful for mild depression as one piece of research shows). Music therapy has been shown to be a powerful tool in treating depression but it would benefit immensely from a digital framework that scales to millions of patients and a technology that would automatically customise it to every patient’s needs. This was essentially the main problem/solution statements behind the concept of Soulight.

Soulight aims to boost emotional wellbeing, prevent anxiety and stress, and alleviate depression by providing personalised music therapy that establishes positive emotions and reduces negative emotions.

Music therapy, even for treating depression and related problems, is traditionally done one-to-one with a music therapist and the patient. The therapist uses various musical instruments to first mirror the emotion state of the patient and then to shift it to a more positive one. The challenge was to automate these two functions in the form of a digital application that could scale to large number of users.

As a precursor to developing the Soulight for Smartphones – your mobile well-being companion, we got the opportunity to test our idea, concept and beliefs as a ‘Proof of Concept’ in Project Ginsberg. Ginsberg is an easy to use tool to help you manage your mood and your mental wellbeing in relation to other aspects of your life. Ginsberg users track their mood using an online tool and create a mood diary that can help them get deeper insights into their emotional well-being over a period of time. In this project we demonstrated how Soulight plugin could help Ginsberg users to “look back” and hear their mood/emotion diary as music and then to “look forward” and gradually transit their current emotional state to a more positive one through music. As Ginsberg platform develops, soon Soulight might be used to turn not only mood itself but other “wellness dimensions” in Project Ginsberg such as physical activity and sleep into music. So in the future not only a person’s mood but their “life” can be turned into music. Soulight web-app/plugin for Ginsberg helped test and fine-tune our ideas, concepts and technology to take the next step.

We believed that music could be a powerful way to mirror our emotion states. This belief was confirmed using exploratory workshops with experts that included a leading psychiatrist in the NHS who said that “emotional self-awareness” is a highly desired objective even within traditional mental healthcare to help prevent people from reaching a more distressing mental state. If that was so, we needed Soulight to allow users to hear different pieces of music and then decide which corresponds to their emotional state. Beyond the immediate benefit of feeding back information to the user about how they feel, this information could be used to keep track of their mood over time and also suggest appropriate musical journeys that start in the user’s current emotional state.

The second major function of this app was to have the ability to experience a musical journey that also is an emotional journey. Specifically, Soulight will need to create a playlist of tracks that begins in the user’s “current” emotional state and gradually leads him/her to a more positive one, e.g. from sad to happy. Again, we verified with a music therapist from NHS that it is more powerful than trying to “jump” to a positive emotion straightaway.

We started by defining the unit of emotional expression that could be used as the building block for the Soulight App. This unit of emotional expression could then become the basis for developing a user interface that delivers an attractive user experience, is scalable and at the same time help communicate emotional well-being in a non-obtrusive manner. In the Soulight App this unit of emotional expression or the elementary building block to express an emotional state is a combination of a piece of music, colour, word and an emoticon.  This unit of emotional expression then went through a co-design process with the experts, both clinical and therapists, and end-users to help develop the user interface design for the MVP Soulight.

The music for the Soulight App comes from MusicFlow, a technology developed by Musemantik over four and a half years with applications in gaming and user generated content industry to customise music to fit the mood and time of events. MusicFlow is fuelled by proprietary Dynamic Scores: music in a dynamic form that is composed by real composers but arranged on demand by MusicFlow. Each dynamic score encapsulates the ability to evolve in thousands of ways, adapting to changing emotion levels. This unique technology can thus instantly create a “musical journey” that normally would take weeks of manual composition. This ensures that we have a wide variety of musical journeys to fit the emotional palette.

This is still early days and there are many challenges to overcome. Watch this space for more updates on Soulight.