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The First Networked Brain Orchestra

Note: BBC iplayer video only works in certain countries. Normally, UK and Commonwealth members.

Its not exactly easy listening music, but the world premiere rendition of music by the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona's brain orchestra, is certainly a worthy achievement for science.

This publication in music of the state of the art in brain computer interfaces, was used to conclude the Science Beyond Fiction conference in Prague, at the end of April 2009. Created by a project called SPECS, or Synthetic, Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems, the idea was to highlight to conference-goers just how far brain interfacing had progressed.

It used the P-300 event related potential signal in response to sensory stimulus, and notes varied according to the emotional vibe the person was thinking of at the time. F our performers were fitted with caps littered with electrodes that took a real-time electroencephalograph, near identical to the system used in the mental keyboard and mental wheelchair technologies.

Produced and conducted by Dr Anna Mura, the songs played were projected onto the main conference screen, as real-time electrical activity output of the brains, as the notes played.

"Everything is built to fulfil the circumplex model, which was worked out by psychologists that study emotions," the doctor stated. "There is a first violin, a second violin and so on, except that instead of violins they are brains."

"This performance is like her emotional experience. What we want to show here is the use of your brain without your body. Embodiment - we should get rid of it sometimes."

"People believe that to understand how we feel will help us to understand what consciousness is all about. This is the technology that is going in that direction; we cannot explain consciousness with this but we are at least exploring the surface of it."

The four performers functioned like a crude network. They were divided into pairs, each of which had a different sensory stimulus.

Two of them looked at monitors upon which flashed columns and rows of letters and numbers. They were told to look for a particular letter. Of course the sequence was controlled by the conductor. As is always the case with humans, when they see the item they are concentrating on, 300 milliseconds later, there is a very distinct and detectable brainwave pulse, the P-300 response. This was used to play their notes, the frequency dictated by their ability to see the letters that flashed up and find that one they were looking for.

The other two, were given boxes with four lights flashing at different frequencies. When those lights flashed in concert, the signals were reflected into the retina, and another standard brain response, the steady-state visually evoked potential or SSVEP was triggered. Again, the signal appeared a couple of hundred milliseconds later, and again the light pulses were controlled by the conductor.

In essence, the conductor was controlling and programming a very crude computer network of four human brains, to deal with the task she desired - music.


World premiere of brain orchestra

Science Beyond Fiction conference 2009


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