Composition      Mapping      Real-Time Notation      Music Therapy      History of Brainwave Music

Playing musical instruments (even digital ones) involves physical movement. You strum the guitar, press the piano keys, hit the drum. But what if you had no physical movement? What if you were paralysed? How would you play music?

Put simply, Brain-Computer Music Interfacing (or BCMI for short) is being able to control music with your brain.

By using technology to measure brainwave activity, it’s possible to exert control over your brainwave patterns and use this to exert control over musical instruments and systems.

brain waves

People often ask me “Does this mean that if I think of a note a computer will play it?”. The answer is not quite! We can detect patterns in brain activity that represent many things. Things like emotional responses, commanding parts of our body to move, or whether we are looking at specific things. As of yet though, it’s not possible to directly read thoughts.

Before I start to explain the technology more, it’s important to understand that brains are a complicated hub of electrical activity, and most of what goes on inside of that activity is still a big mystery within neuroscience. However, there are parts of the brain’s activity though that we do understand, and there are recognisable elements of activity that correspond directly with things that we can feed into our brain from the outside (things referred to as stimuli). For example, what we see with our eyes and certain things that we visualise ourselves doing. A big problem is that these patterns in brainwaves can be extremely hard to decipher through all the other noisy activity happening simultaneously. The process of locating, extracting, and measuring such small electrical signals through membrane tissue, skin, the scalp, and hair, adds to the difficulty of interpreting what’s actually going on.

Technology has allowed us to make a healthy start in reading these signals and creating systems that can react and adapt to them in the moment. My research focuses on using the brain as a controller for making music. I have developed systems and techniques that allow for people to make music, in real-time. By detecting specific brainwave patterns and connecting them to musical parameters, I have created new ways of interacting with music for people with conditions such as paralysis and locked-in syndrome.

This area of my website explores some of the themes and topics from my Masters and PhD research.

A lot of music making with brain waves in the past has been of a random nature, connecting brain waves to musical systems to provide the ability to listen to patterns but without any means of controlling the outcome (and any musical sounds). But recent advances in neuroscience has produced a number of reliable techniques that allow a user to control certain elements of their brain activity. This is done by performing either mental or sensory tasks (visual gazing or auditory focusing for example).

Some of this control can be considered rather ‘sloppy’, whereas other methods allow for quick and precise control over what specific brain waves are doing. Imagine if a brain wave is wired up to a light bulb, and with a quick response pattern a user could control their brain wave which would turn the light bulb on and off at will. Harnessing this type of immediate control is where the majority of my research lies, but without the light bulb. Let’s replace the light bulb with a piano, a laptop, or even an orchestra and make the control far more in-depth and musical!

Using brain wave control I have developed systems for live composition, performance and for music therapy.

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