L. J. Rich’s recent article on the BBC discusses a project led by Professor Eduardo Miranda, who has made a living out of “music neurotechnology“. The ‘composer’ (the person whose brain is going to ‘create’ the music) puts on a brain cap which has electrodes on the back. These electrodes pick up brainwaves from the visual cortex.The brain waves are input into a computer, which generates music influenced by the brain waves received. The composer is required to choose a visual prompt to concentrate on, one of four moving checkered patterns. These patterns flicker at different rates, stimulating the brain to create a sympathetic electrical signal. The program then uses the brain’s sympathetic electrical signal, to select from pre-composed musical phrases to complete the composition.
The concept of the composer’s brain directly generating the music, eliminating hours spent trying to generate ideas and fill in dots on a page, is exciting. However, I would argue the use of visual prompts renders the composer merely an intermediary translating prompts to allow the program to function as designed. This removes the creative input normally involved in the traditional process of composition. The music actually becomes the composers’ physical response to an external visual queue, not an innate creative process. In addition to this, the music generated by the software is a selection of already composed musical phrases, further reducing the creative input.Technologies such as this could be utilised to allow those who would not normally be able to compose music to compose. In the last few years some phone apps have approached this area, for example an app which allows you to hum or whistle into your phone to generate music. Another example is the app ScoreCloud, which allows someone who cannot notate music to compose.
Digital music technologies are still in their infancy, unable to replicate the standard of existing composers. However, it is important to acknowledge the ability to engage an individual who has no musical training; giving them an introduction to composition, without understanding of westernizsed conventions of music notation.