When a rhythm and blues musician loses the ability to hear, it may be challenging to retain hope for performing or making music in the future. But this is the 21st century, and musician Richard Reed is thankful to technology for restoring aspects of his hearing.

Reed has a cochlear implant (CI), which, he describes as a “time machine that transports me to sounds and songs I thought were lost forever.” Even though things don’t sound quite the same as he recalls, Reed attributes this to a change in perception with age. “The sooner we get accustomed to this noisy planet, the better.”

Remembering sound

People often ask Reed what things sound like through the CI, as he can clearly remember activation day, and thus has an idea of sounds before and afterward.

“Imitations and simulations can’t capture the more miraculous but mundane-seeming reality of what happened. Most sounds are quite normal now.” As friends and family exclaim in awe of the technology, Reed recognizes the seemingly infinite abilities of our brains.

“We need to get those synapses snapping,” Reed says. “Neuroplasticity is under-appreciated.” A CI is just the first step in a long process of rehabilitation.

“As a late-deafened musician, I’ve got a lot to gain from future CI technologies.”

A reunion with music

Pitch perception is still somewhat problematic for CI users. “As a late-deafened musician, I’ve got a lot to gain from future CI technologies,” says Reed. But there’s still a lot to appreciate, he adds, affirming that “music is about more than pitch.”

Reed recalls that at first, and for a while after activation, CI music sounded unfamiliar. But after 13 years, he’s got the hang of it. “Like anything worth doing, CI music can be difficult to get right,” he says. But the music-making process is still that: a process. “Composers use ‘happy accidents’ all the time,” he says.

Making it possible

Reed credits the American Cochlear Implant Alliance, a non-profit membership organization that works to eliminate barriers to cochlear implantation, for his progress. The ACI Alliance sponsors research and advocates for improved access to cochlear implants for patients of all ages. The community consists of clinicians, scientists, educators, as well as parent and consumer advocates.

“The ACI Alliance is working on making the biotech dream of artificial ears (farfetched just a few years ago) come true for many more Americans,” says Reed. “If you’re not yet a member of the ACI Alliance, please consider joining. Don’t let the CI future start without you. It sounds too cool to miss.”