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Study: Singing in some languages riskier than others

Researchers in Japan have found it is easier to spread coronavirus particles when singing in certain European languages than in Japanese.

By comparing performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Verdi’s La traviata with a popular Japanese children’s song, scientists at Riken, the Kyoto Institute of Technology, Kobe University and the Toyohashi University of Technology discovered that singing in consonant-heavy German and Italian produced twice as many as per minute (1,302 and 1,166, respectively) as Japanese (580).

The study, commissioned by the Japan Association of Classical Music Presenters, recruited eight professional singers, four male and four female, take turns performing short solos without a mask in a “laboratory-clean room”, and follows an experiment by the Japanese Choral Association which pitted Beethoven’s Ninth against a Japanese graduation song with similar results.

Speaking to CBS News, Toru Niwa, director of the Association of Classical Music Presenters, and Masakazu Umeda, his counterpart at the Choral Association, say the studies reflect how Japanese is spoken, with soft, gently-voiced consonants in comparison to the European languages’ harder sounds.

Japanese has soft, gently-voiced consonants in comparison to the European languages’ harder sounds

The Choral Association additionally found that singing in nonsense syllables composed entirely of the Japanese vowels, “ah, ee, oo, eh, oh”, yielded almost no aerosol emissions at all.

Niwa adds, however, that while there have been coronavirus outbreaks at several amateur choirs, professional groups have yet to record a single community transmission event, regardless of the language being sung. “Classical music is basically the western canon,” he says. “If we stopped singing in French, Italian and German, we wouldn’t be able to perform anymore.”

The science on whether singing increases the risk of coronavirus infection, and the effect of singing volume on transmission, is unclear, with at least one study backed by the UK government finding last year that singing is no riskier than talking. However, with many major live music markets closed – and the majority of those that are open still mandating social distancing – it matters little to most artists and concert professionals.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ IndexIQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

Transparent face masks let fans read lips

A number of new face-covering concepts that would allow deaf concertgoers to read the lips of masked singers have come to market in recent months.

The jury is still out on whether singing increases the risk of spreading Covid-19, but requiring artists to wear masks has been suggested as a way of reducing transmission of the virus at live performances such as concerts and rehearsals.

While transparent face masks are primarily designed for conversations, they could also allow concert attendees to read the lips of artists who are wearing a face covering. Lip reading is one of the ways deaf fans experience live music, along with reading closed captions and feeling the vibrations.

One of the new solutions is Air, a Daft Punk-like clear helmet whose manufacturer, US firm MicroClimate, says filters out 99.7% of aerosol particles.

Targeted towards air travellers, Air seals around the neck, rather than the face, and contains a battery powered fan to ensure a continuous flow of fresh air to the wearer.

“There’s no reason why the solution can’t be elegant and attractive”

According to MicroClimate founder Michael Hall, the helmets’ “unique technology [make] it feel like there is nothing in front of you while you are wearing it. This makes the experience of wearing it very comfortable.”

Air is priced at US$199 and is available to order now, with the first deliveries starting in mid-October.

A more traditional transparent face covering is being produced by Vuzair (h/t MGB), a French start-up which partnered with renowned Italian design house Pininfarina to produce a ‘Covid shield mask’ which also has the backing of the French Interministerial Committee for Disability.

Vuzair’s shield also includes a fan to draw in fresh air and expel CO2 (charging is via USB), and the device can connect to smartphones so users can make calls without having to take it off.

It is designed to be comfortable enough to wear all day, with Vuzair suggesting its main use will be in “restricted and regulated areas that must meet disability requirements, as well as in shops, museums, concert halls, restaurants, educational settings, paramedical settings and individual and collective transportation”.

Apple and the NHS have ordered transparent face coverings from ClearMask

The mask is awaiting European certification, though designers hope to have the product branded and manufactured this year.

“The world is facing a serious health concern and innovative designs need to be incorporated into the global response,” says Silvio Angori, CEO of Pininfarina. “Our challenge is to make this equipment socially acceptable to ensure no one is excluded in this new world, and to quickly, but safely, revive the entire economy.

“Vuzair understood that health and safety need to be the primary concerns in any design of this type, of course, but there’s no reason why the solution can’t be elegant and attractive.”

Other solutions include Vyzr Technologies’ BioVyzr – similar to Air, but significantly larger, forming a seal around the wearer’s chest – and Covidisor, a larger, bubble-like helmet straight out of a ’50s science-fiction film.

But for those who don’t need a built-in fan or Italian design, a number of basic clear plastic mouth coverings are also available. Companies including Apple and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) have ordered face coverings from ClearMask, a US company which in July received US Food and Drug Administration approval for the world’s first fully transparent surgical mask.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ IndexIQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

Singing “no riskier than talking” says Covid study

Singing is “no riskier than talking,” for the spread of coronavirus, according to a new study, supported by Public Health England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

However, the researchers, from the University of Bristol, says the risk of transmission may depend on how loud the singing is.

The study found that there is a steep rise in aerosol mass with an increase in the loudness of the singing and speaking, but singing does not produce much more more aerosol than speaking at a similar volume.

There is emerging evidence that coronavirus can be spread through aerosols, tiny particles which are exhaled from the body and float in the air, as well as in droplets which fall onto surfaces and are then touched.

Live musical performances have been cancelled for many months because singing was identified as a potential “higher risk” activity, however, this study could have implications for live indoor performances, which resumed in England this week.

Jonathan Reid, director of ESPRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Aerosol Science and professor of physical chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, and a corresponding author on the paper, says: “The study has shown the transmission of viruses in small aerosol particles generated when someone sings or speaks are equally possible with both activities generating similar numbers of particles.

“Our research has provided a rigorous scientific basis for Covid-19 recommendations for arts venues to operate safely for both the performers and audience by ensuring that spaces are appropriately ventilated to reduce the risk of airborne transmission.”

“Our research has provided a rigorous scientific basis for Covid-19 recommendations for arts venues to operate safely”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says: “Singing and playing music are passions for many people who will welcome the findings of this important study, which shows that there are no heightened risks associated with these activities. This means people can get back to performing, another important step showing we are Here for Culture through Covid.

“We have worked closely with medical experts throughout this crisis to develop our understanding of the virus, and our guidance is updated in light of these findings today.”

This is the first study to look at the amounts of aerosols and droplets generated by a large group of 25 professional performers completing a range of exercises including breathing, speaking, coughing, and singing.

There were no significant differences in aerosol production between genders or among different genres (choral, musical theatre, opera, choral, jazz, gospel, rock and pop).

The experiments were carried out in an environment of “zero aerosol background”, which allowed the team to unambiguously identify the aerosols produced from specific vocalisations.

The study is yet to be peer-reviewed.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.