Singing in the brain: raw emotions used to create music

Brain waves

 Brainwave activity, such as above, will be gathered from artists to create unique musical performances


We all know performers put their heart and soul into their craft, now researchers at the University of Western Sydney are helping them tap directly into their brains to deliver a raw musical performance using nothing more than their emotions.

Neurophysiologist Professor Vaughan Macefield, sound artist Erin Gee and research engineer Dr Damith Herath are developing a pioneering musical performance incorporating an experimental set of musical instruments activated by the performers’ physiological displays of emotion.

Professor Macefield says the UWS team will eavesdrop directly into people’s emotions by inserting incredibly fine microelectrodes, or needles, into peripheral nerves such as those in the leg.

“Recording skin sympathetic nerve activity (SSNA) allows us to listen in on the electrical signals from the brain without tapping directly into the brain itself,” he says.

“Tapping into these signals provides an electronic picture of your emotions, which we will then use to create a music performance like no other, one literally driven by performers’ feelings.”

To build a more accurate emotional map, Professor Macefield will also record skin blood flow, heart rate, sweat release and respiration.

Sound artist Erin Gee says throughout history artists have drawn on their emotions for inspiration, now the technology is available to take this to a new level.

“Each performance will be truly unique,” she says.

“Our specialized musical instruments allow the emotional state of performers to drive the sound of the music itself.”

“This presents unique opportunities for composing music, as well as conceiving of how sound can be organized and performed.”

Professor Macefield says there’s a complex feedback process where the brain and the body both contribute to form an emotional response.

“Your emotional state isn’t just limited to your brain activity,” he says.

“Without the physiological markers of emotion – the sweat release, the fall in skin blood flow, the increase in heart rate and respiration – our brains do not fully recognise their emotional state.”

“This intersection of art and science will further increase our understanding of the need for physical responses to understand our emotions.”

The project is supported by the MARCS Institute at UWS and Concordia International at the Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

For interviews please contact the UWS Media Unit.


25 June 2012 

Contact: Mark Smith, Media Officer