Music has long been seen as an expression of one's thoughts, feelings, or emotions. Painful experiences and difficult moments can all be translated into some meaningful lyrics accompanied by gentle or jarring melodies, depending on the mood and message of the song. But what about for people who are suffering from severe physical disabilities or for those who do not have the ability to speak?
Well, researchers from the United Kingdom are working hard to give them a musical voice by developing a new computer system that can turn thoughts to music. The system is called the brain-computer music interface (BCMI) and it is able to create music from electrical signals being fired off by the human brain.
"It started as a musical project which began a scientific project," Eduardo Miranda, a composer and computer music specialist from the University of Plymouth, explained. Along with other scientists from the University of Essex as well as with RHN music therapist Wendy Magee, Miranda was able to develop a working prototype.
Basically there are four icons which will flash at varying frequencies on the computer monitor. The patient will be seated in front of the screen while an electroencephalograph (EEG) is connected to his scalp. Whenever he will look at the flashing light at certain frequencies, faint signals are sent by his brain, which are amplified and inputted into a computer. Aside from determining which of the icons the patient was looking at, the intensity with which he was looking at the image can also be detected by the EEG.
Miranda had created four music algorithms that will translate the light frequencies of the icon's being flashed into recognizable musical processes. For example, looking at an icon would cause a note to sound while staring would cause a change in pitch. The other icons will also allow the users of the system to customize and manipulate the rhythm, volume, and speed of the music being created from their thoughts.
Previous studies have shown that music is a useful tool to use to help patients suffering from brain injuries and other disabilities. Miranda hopes to develop his system further and make its operation less complex so that clinicians will be able to operate the equipment by themselves.