Brain wave music now a reality


This cartoon, found at Paleo-Future, accompanied a short article from the August 28th, 1949 edition of the San Antonio Light:

CHICAGO, Aug. 27 – (AP) – Some day composers won’t write music, and musicians won’t play it – yet fans will enjoy it in never-before-heard perfection.

The composer or artist will simply project it by brain waves – “thought transference,” says Raymond Scott.


This man, who thinks in terms of electronics and music, thinks that is all quite possible. Scott said in an interview:

“Brains put out electrical waves. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some day it were possible to do away with lines in music, such as writing it out and playing the notes. You’ll just be able to think it.

“Imagine fastening electrodes to your head, inviting some people to your home and then thinking your music. If you wanted 1000 violins you could have them – and if you wanted the bass fiddle to play piccolo parts, you could do that, too.”

Raymond Scott, a pioneer of electronic music, had remarkable foresight. His prediction that music would one day be generated by brain waves came true: two years ago, James Fung, a musician and computer engineer at the University of Toronto, organized a concert in which the “music” was generated by the brain waves of the audience, via EEG devices suspended from the ceiling. The film clip below describes Fung’s work, and includes footage of the performance.

2 thoughts on “Brain wave music now a reality

  1. I think purely mental music would be different from that produced from physically handling an instrument. I might like a hybrid in which I could interact with the instrument during creation but then just use my mind for playback/performance.

  2. Well, James Fung is guilty of more than a little hype here. (I was going to blame the newsreader, but Mr. Fung revealed himself at the end to be full of it.) This isn’t really that different from aleatoric music, or the musical dice games of the 18th century.
    The trick here is in “converting” brainwaves to sound. Brainwaves, of course, are not sound, so someone has to determine the rules for making that conversion. The act of determining what characteristics of the brainwaves are converted to which musical qualities is an act of musical composition. James Fung, in creating the conversion algorithms, is the sole composer of the work. The brainwaves are simply a chance element he’s introduced into what is a fairly common mid-20th century musical technique.
    Given that the audience seemed singularly unimpressed by the result, though, I’d say the work was not a success.
    When I was studying music in the conservatory back in the 80s, I wrote a piece (titled “Crayola”) in which squares of graph paper were colored with 7 different crayons according to fairly common architectonic musical patterns. Each musician was assigned a color, told that the horizontal axis was time, and told to decide for themselves what their color signified and what the vertical axis represented. Fung’s piece was not that different from mine (well, crayons and graph paper are much cheaper than EKGs), except that his afforded the musicians even less control, and mine was successful as music. /* smug */

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