During the past decade, Brad Garton and Dave Soldier have experimented with music and brainwaves. The result of playing avant-garde shows is an embrace by public television and the health community. Garton and Soldier created a process to generate music using brainwave data, and now the CD, “The Brainwaves Music Project” is set for release Jan. 5, 2018.
Music and the brain
Numerous books and studies exist to detail what kind of effects music has on the brain. That connection seems to be a popular scientific mystery. But Garton and Soldier are doing something a little different with their project.
A decade of brain and music exploration
To fully understand what Garton and Soldier employed as a process for capturing the brainwaves they desired for the project, probably would take more space than allotted here.
However, the condensed version involves special, but “fairly inexpensive” EEG sensors, software that Soldier and Garton designed, and the need to study how the process of turning brainwaves into music could actually work. Using the EEG sensors, the neuroscientist/musician (Soldier) and the musician (Garton) measured the electrical output of the brain. The music created for the album (and for all the performances) is based on this brainwave data.
The album, “The Brainwave Music Project” is the result of playing numerous shows. The duo and several guest musicians have played rock festivals such as The Redbull Festival, radio stations, WFMU, and venerable institutions such as the New York City Opera, Guggenheim and Ruben museums. The project has even garnered its own one-hour PBS special. In addition, Soldier and Garton and the musicians they work with have become the first avant-garde musicians to perform for the National Institutes of Health, after being invited by graduate students.
To clue audiences in, Soldier gives a lecture complete with slides, on the brain’s corticol activity. He then explains how the brain senses and produces rhythm. Garton details for audiences how the recorded waves are translated into music. The two use their own brainwaves, or those of guest musicians, to record and compose in real time. Musicians typically improvise with the brainwaves.
The sound of brain music
If the idea of making music from brain waves seems too far-fetched, it really is no different from other means of avant-garde music-making.
The sound of the music, too, is an acquired taste. This is not music for dancing, or even for just relaxing and listening. “The Brainwaves Music Project” is interesting, though. The songs’ titles pique listeners’ curiosity.
Track No. 9, “Insula” holds the most promise for listeners unfamiliar with avant-garde music. The beginning does sound like “regular” jazz, but then the off-kilter noises kick in, and listeners are left to determine for themselves where the value in the recording lies. If nothing else, the music allows listeners to discover something about the human body.
Some of the musicians on the CD play unusual instruments. Dan Trueman plays hardanger fiddle; Margaret Lancaster plays solo flute; Terry Pender plays mandolin, and William Hooker plays trap drums.
“The Brainwaves Music Project” is different in sound and content. While it might not be the kind of jazz that most people expect, it is interesting and worth attempting to understand.