Art & Music Sciences


It is impossible to overstate the importance of arts in society. Arts permeate every aspect of human existence, and yet we don’t fully understand how engaging with the arts impacts us at a neurological level or why or how it has such wide-ranging benefits.

The MARCS institute is changing this by bringing together musicians, performers, composers, psychologists, neuroscientists, linguists and engineers to measure how art impacts the brain.

Our research then seeks to identify ways art can be applied to enhance creativity, memory, wellbeing and social interaction.

We have an established track record of translating fundamental research into real-world settings such as using music to enhance learning or reduce the cognitive impact of Parkinson’s disease, through to quantifying the value programs such as youth ensembles to help organisations justify the funding they received.

Our research is enabled through specialist laboratories, facilities and performance spaces that we have invested in over the past two decades. Our location in Western Sydney and breadth of expertise ensures our research is reflective of culturally and linguistic communities and people with varied cognitive and physical abilities.

Our capability is enabling us to:

  • Develop new ways of teaching that incorporate music to enhance learning and music
  • Understand the impact of art and stimulus such as music and movement on healthy ageing and mental health in adolescence
  • Explore how art can be used as a tool to prevent mental illness or reduce the impact of cognitive disease
  • Quantify the impact and importance of arts programs and experiences on mental health and well-being
  • Measure the impact of music and movement – for both performers and audiences – on cognitive function
  • Build our understand of the impact and opportunities of emerging technologies on composition and creativity

Our unique approach

Our research – focused on music, movement, linguistics and visual stimulus – is transforming our understanding of the impact of art on the human brain.

What makes MARCS special is that we don’t separate art from science. We bring musicians, performers, composers, researchers and engineers together in utterly unique collaborations.

We have created bespoke performance spaces and laboratories and we have developed technology to study the brain in minimally invasive ways, enabling us to run experiments with cognitively diverse populations in individual and group settings.

We’re not limited to physical performance spaces. Our researchers are also exploring how emerging software and technology such as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality can be used to transform how we compose, create and interact with art.

Our research is enhanced by the Institute’s deep understanding of how the human brain develops and changes across the lifespan. Our collaborative approach ensures this fundamental knowledge can be translated through co-designed projects to address real-world problems.

Our fields of interest

Our research focuses on music, movement, linguistics and visual stimulus. This includes:

  • Group performance: Understanding how dancers and musicians operate and synchronise to further our understanding of group learning and teamwork.
  • Art stimulus on the human brain: Understanding how visual, auditory and movement stimulus impacts perception, mood and memory.
  • Art as therapy: Exploring how art can be used to improve memory and wellbeing and minimise the impact of illnesses such as dementia.
  • Music to enhance learning: Investigating how music can enhance memory and learning and developing real-world applications for the classroom.
  • Art for wellbeing: Developing projects that can quantify the impact of arts programs on wellbeing.
  • Music and technology: Exploring how emerging technologies such as Augmented and Virtual Reality, Machine Learning and AI can be used to create new music, develop instrument learning programs for people with impaired physical or cognitive abilities, or as tools to monitor and improve mental health.

Impact built on collaboration

Our partnerships range from small scale to large long-term projects. Some examples include:

  • austraLYSIS is the longest-standing sound and intermedia ensemble based in Australia. The ensemble has performed in more than 30 countries, created more than 100 works and is featured on dozens of CDs.
  • Rhythmotron is a robotic drum machine housed inside a re-used upright piano. It explores the use of novel mathematical algorithms – based on concepts of well-formedness and perfect balance – for producing catchy rhythms.
  • Moody Tunes is a smartphone app that uses music to help people understand and manage depression. Co-developed with young people over 10 years, the app is easy to use, can be accessed anytime, anywhere, and promotes both self-management of mental health and seeking professional services when needed.
  • Development of a set of evidence-based guidelines for how music can be effectively selected and used within dementia care settings. With funding from the Dementia Australia Research Foundation and in collaboration with HammondCare’s Dementia Centre, these guidelines have now been transformed into an online training course for caregivers.
  • A new way of visualising rhythms in music based on mathematics, and a pilot program in schools in Sydney to help teach students both mathematics and music.

Our research in action

Across MARCS, we are engaged with hundreds of research projects at any given time. MARCS research projects aim to have a profound impact in their particular field and often involve collaboration with local and international researchers. You can explore our current projects in Art & Music Sciences here.