Strange Native
Strange Native


The Body, The Brain & Music

Sep 19, 2010

So far I’ve been collecting a lot of anecdotal research and snippets from various places books and online sources. Here are a few of the things currently inspiring me.

Music of the Mind

Using Brainwaves to Construct Music

Fantastic video. Mick Grierson has created a computer program that can literally detect and play the note you think. Amazing! Hit the one-minute mark for a quick thought about using such a program to not only determine notes, but to use the brain as an orchestral conductor of those notes; a more brain-centric take on the main idea I’m trying to get at through my study of body motion.

On a related note; here’s a clip from Dr. Daniel Levitin’s book This Is Your Brain on Music:

Pitch is so important that the brain represents it directly; unlike almost any other musical attribute, we could place electrodes in the brain and be able to determine what pitches were being played to a person just by looking at their brain activity

He takes it a step further. This brainwave translation of sound happend so far back in evolution most living creatures have the same reaction to pitch and sound that we do. He describes an experiment performed on owls:

Petr [Janata] placed electrodes in the inferior colliculus of the barn owl, part of its auditory system. Then, he played the owls a version of Strauss’s “The Blue Danube Waltz”… Because the electrodes put out a small electrical signal with each firing—and because the firing rate is the same as the frequency of firing—Petr sent the output of these electrodes to a small amplifier, and played back the sound of the owl’s neurons through a loudspeaker. What he heard was astonishing; the melody of “The Blue Danube Waltz” sang clearly from the loudspeakers…

I mean, come on! Holy shit, right?

David Rokeby

Very Nervous System, 1981

Thanks to Ian Curry and Jake Barton for turning me on to David’s work. In a lot of ways I’m glad I found out of David, because his work was almost exactly what I was envisioning in my head. Some thoughts from David:

I created the work for many reasons, but perhaps the most pervasive reason was a simple impulse towards contrariness. The computer as a medium is strongly biased. And so my impulse while using the computer was to work solidly against these biases. Because the computer is purely logical, the language of interaction should strive to be intuitive. Because the computer removes you from your body, the body should be strongly engaged. Because the computer’s activity takes place on the tiny playing fields of integrated circuits, the encounter with the computer should take place in human-scaled physical space. Because the computer is objective and disinterested, the experience should be intimate.

Somehow David Rokeby have been sharing a brain. I’m interested to see where I can take this work. It’s a relief to see the concept actually works and works really well! David also sells his computer vision code-base which communicates with Max MSP, so I could actually get this up and running very quickly. I plan on doing just that.

Here’s another Very Nervous System video that provides a more through in-practice demonstration (embedding was disabled).


I guess what I’m saying is… Can’t we do both of these things once? Create a total brain/body instrument and composition tool? I’ll leave you with a thought from David Rokeby’s 1985 essay, Dreams of an Instrument Maker

Dreams of an Instrument Maker

The unique abilities of these instruments seem to propose a new approach to music, which would use to full advantage their unique potential. By this I do not mean the invention of new structural systems, or complex mathematical tunings, but a renovation of the relationship between music, the composer, and time itself.


Comments are closed.