Creating Music Using Brain Waves: Just For Fun Or Clinically Important?
Chinese researchers from the University of Electronic Science and Technology in Chengdu have been studying how to create music using brain waves. They are making music which could help more accurately diagnose brain disorders and come up with new and improved ways of treating them.
In the first experiment, lead researcher Jing Lu and her colleagues used electroencephalography (EEG) to take brain signals and transformed them into musical notes. They measured the height or amplitude of the waves taken by EEG to measure the pitch of the notes and the duration of the notes was determined by the length of airwaves. The average power change of EEG was used to calculate the intensity of the notes.
However, after creating the first composition, they realized that the result was not comfortable for human ear as a piece of music because the rapid change of EEG signal brought about lack of coherence of the composition. Lu and her colleagues added another technique, “functional magnetic resonance imaging”(fMRI), which measures brain activities by detecting change of blood flows in order to complement EEG’s functions. The researchers mention that the combination of EGG and fMRI enables them to compose agreeable pieces of music evaluated by a panel consists of 10 musicians. Lu says that her team’s final object is to discover the secret of the brain and she wants to examine if the music produced by brain waves is more efficient than the traditionally composed music for music therapy.
According to the article, some successful therapeutic effects of brain music were reported by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. The neuroscientists of the department state that brain music can be effectively used to treat anxiety, insomnia and headaches. They assume that the notes produced by the brain waves strengthen brain’s relaxation and alertness function.
However, some people have questioned about the therapeutic effect of brain music. For example, David Sulzer, a neuroscientist and professor who has been interpreting brain waves into performing music since long time, doesn’t see concrete evidences which support the therapeutic effects of music by the brain waves. He emphasizes that creating music by brain waves opens a new way of making music, but we need more concrete evidence to use it for therapeutic purpose.
It is very fascinating that researchers have been interested in using brain waves in a therapeutic way. Surprisingly, the article introduces some successful cases as well. However, it was a little bit hard for me to understand how music composed by brain waves can rehabilitate brain disorders. In my understanding, brain disorders can be diagnosed by examining brain waves and I have some doubts about the way of transforming the brain waves into musical notes. Can the height of waves and the length of airwaves correctly represent the pitch and length of notes like a composer who creates a melody from the brain to the paper by using his or her hand?
This curiosity led me to find more information about Lu and her colleagues’ research and I was able to find some samples of brain music and graphs. They give us four music examples; two EEG music files and two EEG-fMRI music files. I listened to the four files. It is true that the EEG-fMRI music files were more coherent than the EEG files, but for me, both of them sound like serial music consisting of clusters of notes and it is hard for me to believe that the files could have therapeutic effect on brain disorders.
Listening to the files, I came up with two ways of improving their project. First, they could add the element of “timbre”. When a composer creates a piece of music or a melody, he or she thinks about not only the pitch and the length of the notes but also an instrument which has appropriate timber. I believe that choosing appropriate timbre enables them to get more successful results. Secondly, having coherence of the musical syntax would be helpful for those who need the brain music treatment.
In conclusion, I think we need more concrete evidences in order the brain music to become a new way of treating brain disorders and researchers should find various ways of transforming brain waves into music more close to the traditional human-made music.
"Scientists hear the music of your brain." Scientists hear the music of your brain. http://www.themunicheye.com/news/Scientists-hear-the-music-of-your-brain-2358
"Scale-Free Brain-Wave Music from Simultaneously EEG and fMRI Recordings." PLOS ONE:. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0049773