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2013: A Brain Wave Symphony?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Just about everyone appreciates music, but music that results from a creative implementation of sound can be especially compelling. Human beings are inventive creatures who discover a myriad of ways to innovate in the musical realm. This video preview of Landfill Harmonic, a documentary shot in a slum in Paraguay shows that people can find ways to make music even in less-than-ideal conditions.

While kids in Paraguay are making music out of garbage, researchers in China are making music out of brain activity. Back in 2009, the authors of “Scale-Free Brain-Wave Music from Simultaneously EEG and fMRI Recordings” used electroencephalography or EEG as a basis for the composition of music. EEG involves measuring the brain’s electrical activity through the scalp via a cap that looks like this:

Recording from the brain in this manner results in waveforms that represent the electrical activity of distinct groups of neurons in the cortex. The authors used the period of the EEG waveform to represent the duration of a musical note, the amplitude of the waveform to represent the pitch of the note, and the average power change of the waveform to represent the volume (intensity) of the music. The group was able to produce music from EEG brain recordings by following this formula. However, the music that resulted from this analysis rapidly changed in volume which made for suboptimal listening. In order to solve this problem, the researchers added recordings from functional brain imaging, or fMRI, to control the volume instead of using the EEG waveform power change. By recording from the brain using simultaneous EEG and fMRI, the researchers correlated the volume of their brain-derived compositions to the BOLD signal of the fMRI. The result of using fMRI as a volume control was music with less erratic shifts in volume than the solely EEG-derived music.
Take a listen to the results below.

The authors of the paper think that this new way of composing music from brain activity might be useful for biofeedback therapy or other clinical applications. They also mention that brain-wave music could be used in collaborations between scientists and artists. Will musicians take up this challenge and start to use brain-wave music in some of their compositions in the same way that Greensboro band Invisible uses this typewriter to compose music?


This typewriter song sounds strangely similar to the brain-wave music and uses a similar concept of information transfer to music notes.

I also can’t help but wonder what the late experimental composer John Cage would do with this technology. Will this new year see an experimental composer using her brain waves or those of orchestral members to form a sort of aleatoric brain wave symphony? Don’t disappoint me, 2013. The future is NOW.

Lu J., Wu D., Yang H., Luo C., Li C. & Yao D. (2012). Scale-free brain-wave music from simultaneously EEG and FMRI recordings., PloS one, PMID:

Image: “More EEG” by user delta_avi_delta on flickr.
Sound file taken from the supporting information of the paper.

Princess Ojiaku About the Author: Princess Ojiaku is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison in Neuroscience and Public Policy. She is also a student of life, exuberant nerd, and musician. She often tweets her daily links of interest and digital personal mutterings. Follow on Twitter @artfulaction.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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Comments 4 Comments

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  1. 1. PuTmYkUsHiNyOu 7:31 pm 01/7/2013

    awesome

    Link to this
  2. 2. verdai 6:33 pm 01/9/2013

    If without the music of the spheres, it springs up within

    Link to this
  3. 3. lgrohn 6:42 am 01/11/2013

    Music generated fromn photos:

    http://www.synestesia.fi/

    Regards,

    Lauri Gröhn, metacomposer

    Link to this
  4. 4. chrissponias 9:52 pm 02/8/2013

    The music produced by brain waves can have a healing power.

    Link to this

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