Vinoo Alluri, Assistant Professor and Violinist

What I love the most about playing the violin is that it is a very humbling instrument. Everything else pales in comparison to playing such an instrument. It somehow gives perspective in life. Playing in harmony with other instruments also creates a deep form of connection (that I search for in life in general).

My name is Vinoo Alluri, and I am an Assistant Professor at the Cognitive Science Lab at the International Institute of Information Technology in Hyderabad. My background (Bachelors) is in electronics and communication engineering. I did an MSc in music engineering technology from the University of Miami and then a PhD in Musicology (interdisciplinary field combining sound and music computing, cognitive science, and neuroscience) from the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland. My research revolves around how music is represented and processed in the brain, and how empathy and musical aptitude modulate brain responses to music. I also work on what our music consumption on online music streaming platforms says about us as an individual – for example, can I predict well-being or risk for depression from music listening habits? Also, can I predict tendencies such as personality from the same?

I am from Hyderabad, but my Masters took me to Miami, and my PhD to Jyvaskyla, Finland. For familial reasons, I had to shift to Geneva, where I worked briefly as a post-doctoral researcher at the NEAD (Neuroscience of Emotions and Affective Dynamics) lab at the University of Geneva. I later moved back to India again, also due to familial reasons.

I’ve always loved music. Growing up it has had a profound effect on me. I think music is magic and the best medicine. I had a cousin who had severe cerebral atrophy, and I would observe that she had distinct reactions only to music. She never had any evident signs of recognizing her family members or objects, and it appeared that her cognitive abilities were heavily compromised, but she seemed to enjoy certain kinds of music. Especially when she was in pain, listening to music would calm her down. And that fascinated me because I wanted to understand how music affects the brain. I was lucky to come across the PhD program in Finland, which I thought was perfect for my interests – so I began my fascinating (at least to me!) journey.

Speaking about my musical activities outside of work, I love playing the violin. I first became interested in music and the violin when I was a toddler – my parents noticed that I would react specifically to a certain melody that would come on TV before the evening news. At home, my father also listened to a lot of music (Western Classical music, ABBA, Boney M, Kitaro, the Carpenters, Elton John, etc.), so I grew up in such an environment. My father tried his best to get me a teacher in Western Classical music, but the teacher refused to take me at the age of 4 years old, saying I was too young. But my dad was persistent and the teacher finally accepted me in 1990. And that’s when I started taking violin and piano lessons at the age of 7.

My favourite violinists are Nathan Milstein and Viktoria Mullova. But I think each violinist has his or her own specialty (in terms of composer, or period of music), so it is not easy to pick. As regards other artists, there are just too many and too much wonderful music, so it is certainly difficult to pick (almost feels unfair to pick and judge all this talent!). My favourites are Pink Floyd, MJ, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Billie Eilish, James Blake, Bruno Mars, and the list goes on!

With my mentor, friend, colleague, PhD supervisor, and constant collaborator Professor Petri Toiviainen

The genre of music I play with the violin is Classical (Western). I also enjoy playing with my brother, whose own music is Indie + British Rock inspired. However, I am happy to play any kind.

One of my favourite experiences with music was when I started playing the second violin in a local orchestra around the age of 8-9 years. I was the youngest then, and the oldest member was 83 years old. And I would absolutely love playing as a group – the very idea of so many individuals coming together and playing in harmony was beautiful. I could do it for hours and not feel tired. It was also a lovely experience playing in the University of Miami orchestra. Recently, playing with my brother for his acoustic gigs was a lot of fun! I love playing the violin with another instrument(s), rather than playing solo.

In the future, I hope to play with my daughter – she is currently taking violin lessons. Also, I hope I get a chance to get back to playing in an orchestra.

At a gig for Sofar Sounds in 2019

Music and playing the violin has absolutely been a benefit to my tech career. Music research is about the composer, the performer, and the listener (which can all be the same person sometimes) and their experiences. So playing an instrument and being around musicians and composers, and dabbling in amateur harmonization recently, allows me to get a deeper understanding of this phenomenon. Music and my job also both require a lot of self-discipline, patience, and perseverance. I think my current occupation is easier than mastering the violin (or achieving decent mastery over it).

There is always more than tech. Creativity and aesthetic experiences are such fundamental human pursuits that tech can only facilitate (and is not essential).

After a successful Music Cognition Symposium hosted in 2018 at IIIT
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