It’s not the first time we hear about mind-composed music but in this case the instrument is designed for paralyzed patients to play music with thoughts only. The project is managed by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR) with purpose to create a computer-music system that interacts directly with the user’s brain, by picking up the tiny electrical impulses of neurons.The device, developed by composer and computer-music specialist Eduardo Miranda of the University of Plymouth, UK, working with computer scientists at the University of Essex, should eventually help people with severe physical disabilities, caused by brain or spinal-cord injuries, for example, to make music for recreational or therapeutic purposes.
The development of brain–computer interfaces offer new possibilities for people who have almost no muscle movement and can enjoy music only through passive listening. In general, these interfaces rely on the user’s ability to learn how to self-induce particular mental states that can be detected by brain-scanning technologies.
Previous efforts using BCIs have focused on moving computer screen icons such as cursors, but Miranda’s team sought to achieve the much more complex task of enabling users to play and compose music.
The trick is to teach the user how to associate particular brain signals with specific tasks by presenting a repeating stimulus — auditory, visual or tactile — and getting the user to focus on it. This elicits a distinctive, detectable pattern in the EEG signal. Miranda and his colleagues show several flashing ‘buttons’ on a computer screen, which each trigger a musical event. The users push a button just by directing their attention to it.
For example, a button could be used to generate a melody from a preselected set of notes. The user can alter the intensity of the control signal – how ‘hard’ the button is pressed – by varying the intensity of attention, and the result is fed back to them visually as a change in the button’s size. In this way, any one of several notes can be selected by mentally altering the intensity of pressing.
With a little practice, this allows users to create a melody as if they were selecting keys on a piano. And, as with learning an instrument, say the researchers, “the more one practices the better one becomes”.
You can read the full story at nature.com.