I know it’s not Music Wednesday, but this feels more like a Monday than a Wednesday topic anyway. This video contains audio produced from electroencephalogram (EEG) data taken during a seizure:
The recording was produced through the collaboration of Josef Parvizi, a Stanford neuroscientist and neurologist, and Chris Chafe, a Stanford music professor who “is one of the world’s foremost experts in ‘musification,’ the process of converting natural signals into music.” From the article:
[Parvizi] shared a consenting patient’s EEG data with Chafe, who began setting the electrical spikes of the rapidly firing neurons to music. Chafe used a tone close to a human’s voice, in hopes of giving the listener an empathetic and intuitive understanding of the neural activity.
Once Parvizi and Chafe heard the results themselves, they realized that it might do more than produce music:
If they could achieve the same result with real-time brain activity data, they might be able to develop a tool to allow caregivers for people with epilepsy to quickly listen to the patient’s brain waves to hear whether an undetected seizure might be occurring.
Yet more evidence that collaborations between science and art can potentially produce important discoveries.
The composition also raises questions for me about the experience of music. While I generally enjoy sad songs, despite knowing that they might have arisen from the experience of real pain by the artist, something about knowing that this recording arose from suffering, in the form of a seizure, disturbs me, and makes the recording difficult for me to listen to. I suppose there is a haunting beauty to it, but it is a beauty overshadowed by my awareness of its origin. I find this almost as fascinating as I do the composition itself.
[I discovered the article, which is a few months old, while perusing Patricia Churchland’s Twitter feed. Who says Twitter is pointless?]