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The Harmonic Oscillator: Rehearing Our Hospital Environments

The Harmonic Oscillator: Rehearing Our Hospital Environments

Australian artist Vic McEwan, Director of Arts for Health, Clive Parkinson (UK) and Arts Coordinator, Vicky Charnock (UK), have teamed up to create The Harmonic Oscillator, a project that explores how we might rehear our hospital environments, actively reimagining the sonic landscape of 21st Century health spaces. Through an arts led approach working with patients, families and the professional community that support health and wellbeing, this multi faceted project will explore the story of the individual within a clinical setting.

*In classical mechanics, a harmonic oscillator is a system that, when displaced from its equilibrium position, experiences a restoring force, proportional to the displacement.

Overview The World Health Organisation recommends average noise levels should be lower than 35 decibels in hospital treatment rooms and lower than 30 decibels in wards. A recent landmark study showed that no hospital has achieved these guidelines. Research is demonstrating that the adverse physical and psychological effects caused from excessive noise levels in hospitals can result in increased stress, medication, length of stay, agitation, raised blood pressure and sleep disturbance (Hsu et al 2012). In 2014-2015, Vic McEwan made two visits to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, exploring the sonic environment, working with patients, staff and families to gain a better understanding of the impact of noise on patients.

Throughout 2016-17 Vic will return regularly to the UK to be in residence at Alder Hey and with Arts for Health from The Manchester School of Art. He will conduct further workshops and explore the sonic environment of the newly opened Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, investigating the effectiveness of design considerations in terms of sound. From busy arterial corridors and essential life-supporting machinery, to the exploratory and investigative tools of body scanning, Vic will work to understand and transform noise into art, with the aim of better understanding the negative impact of noise, seeking ways that this information can inform change and stimulate creative activity amongst patients and staff.

Outcomes Overview of Past Research

We will conduct a review of past research that has been undertaken into the effects of noise within clinical environments.

Sound Analysis in PICU

Over a period of three days, the team will work with medical staff to analyse sound levels within the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) exploring correlation between peak noise events and vital signs of patients.


To help highlight the impact of noise on the healing environment of the hospital, one of the outcomes of the project will be the creation of four compositions made entirely from the sounds within Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, including compositional elements that explore the lived experience of patients, family and staff.

High Frequency Ventilation Oscillators

Produce a case study of the impact of one particular piece of high impact PICU machinery, the High Frequency Ventilation Oscillators.

Sound Memory

PICU staff have discussed how particular noises from hospital equipment create a psychological impact that resonates far beyond the workplace. We will collect a series of personal interviews from staff about these impacts and record the noises emanating from specific pieces of equipment.

Sound Map

Through workshops with patients and staff, create a detailed “sound map� of Alder Hey that identifies and categorises sounds and collects data about the lived experience of the hospital sound environment.

The Story of the Individual

Vic McEwan and Clive Parkinson will work with one or more patients and their families and wider care team, to explore a creative collaboration with the patient as an artist. This will be a more indepth exploration of both the patient experience and the role of the artist in a health care setting. Clive Parkinson will observe the process and author a publication, which explores the relationships that unfold during the process, alongside the wider material gathered throughout the project.

Radio Documentary

This entire journey of this project is being documented for the creation of a radio documentary.

Mobile Application

Resources will be created to generate a mobile application for distribution within other hospitals as an aid to exploring sound related issues including self-directed workshops to explore the sonic landscape.

Vic McEwan Vic McEwan was the 2014-15 Arts NSW Regional Arts Fellow, the 2015 Artist in Residence at the National Museum of Australia and he sits on the NSW/ACT State Leadership Group for Arts and Health in Australia. He is the co-founder and Artistic Director of The Cad Factory, a regionally based artist led organisation creating an international program of new, immersive and experimental work guided by authentic exchange, ethical principles, people and place. Vic’s practice is diverse with focus on sound, video, installation and performance. He is a composer, sound and installation artist, producer and director who is interested in communities, remote spaces and cross art form collaboration. Vic has a particular interest in partnering with non arts sectors to create innovative, modes of contemporary art making with a focus on ethical processes.

Clive Parkinson Clive Parkinson is the director of Arts for Health. Based at Manchester Metropolitan University, it is the longest established research and development unit of its sort. Clive is a passionate advocate for culture and the arts and is constantly striving to further understand the potential relationship between the arts and public health. He is a founding member of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, which recently established an All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing. He is currently a co-investigator on the Dementia & Imagination project in the UK, which is exploring the links between the visual arts, wellbeing and sense of community. Heavily involved in arts and health development work in Italy, France, Lithuania and Turkey, he has recently been working with people in recovery from substance addiction to develop a Recoverist Manifesto.

Inequalities and social justice are central to his thinking and his current research scrutinizes the art sectors slavish adherence to reductive methods of understanding its own value. Clive regularly blogs at:

Vicky Charnock Vicky Charnock has worked as Arts Coordinator at Alder Hey Childrens Hospital, Liverpool since 2006, where she has pioneered a nationally recognised programme which has been at the forefront of innovative practices within the arts for health sector. The programme includes the Cultural Champions partnership programme, working with the leading arts organisations within Merseyside to develop and deliver an ambitious patient centred arts programme. She has also developed innovative mentoring programme between arts and health professionals, and has a number of research specialisms such as the exploration of the effect of dance and movement upon pain tolerance. Alder Heys Arts for Health programme was recently awarded a prestigious NHS England Excellence in Participation Award: Children and Young People. Vicky has previously worked at a number of leading art galleries within the North West of England such as Cornerhouse Arts Centre in Manchester, where she developed their gallery education programme. More recently, she worked as Community Programme Curator at Tate Liverpool for five years, developing arts and health programmes which utilised the National Collection of Modern Art as well as professional development programmes for the social services, health and community sectors.

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