Making music through brainwaves

By Kelly Jirsa

Making music through brainwaves

Patients from the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability (RHN) in London are being given access to pioneering technology that allows them to create music without the use of movement or speech.

Rosemary Johnston was a professional violinist with the Welsh National Orchestra until in 1988 she was involved in a car accident that left her in a coma for seven months. When she regained consciousness, she had suffered brain damage, was paralysed and without the ability to speak.

Rosemary, now 50, is involved in a ground-breaking research program with three other patients that is giving her the opportunity to reengage with her love of creating music.

Patients involved in the program at the University of Plymouth can create pieces of music by selecting phrases and notes visually. The program uses a Brain Computer Music Interface (BCMI) that facilitates instructions between patients and an ensemble of four string musicians, The Paramusical Ensemble. The patient is fitted with electrodes directly to the scalp that pick up brain waves and transmits these signals in real time.

The BCMI detects the patient’s selection of musical phrases and notes, based on the electrical activity going on in their brain when they focus on lights and colours on a computer screen. The software also allows them to manipulate the composition, the speed and volume by using mental focus.

Professor Miranda, Director of the Plymouth University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR) says, “Our work is giving people an opportunity to put their physical impediments aside, and use music to communicate in ways that would not normally be possible because of their medical conditions. It is an amazing example of research being taken out of the laboratory and into the real world, with both inspiring and very emotional results.”



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