Probing the mind of berzelius 

A performance at the Se2017 conference, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, August 13, 2017

Probing the Mind of Berzelius is an interdisciplinary artistic performance that will take you on a sonic dive into the discovery of selenium 200 years ago. The performance is developed by neuroscientist Stephen Whitmarsh (NL) with musicians Jean-Louis Huhta (SWE) and Samon Takahashi (FR). During the performance, the EEG brain activity of Samon Takahashi will be analyzed as he leaves the outer world behind and connects with the memories of the late Berzelius. The more he relaxes his mind from the constraints of perception, the more it will open for a transmission of Berzelius, who will speak of that event which brings us all together in the coming days. We invite you to join us, and let yourself be absorbed into the complex sonic textures offered to you by Jean-Louis, in which, if you pay attention, you should be able to recognize selenium’s electromagnetic spectrum.

The brown substance, which the decomposition of the ammonium salts yielded, now became an object of investigation, and was found, through the experiments, which in the following will be described, to be a separate, hitherto unknown, combustible mineral, which I, to mark its akin properties with tellurium, have named Selenium, from Σελήνη, moon (goddess). What is more, it is in this regard, midway between sulfur and tellurium, and has almost more characters of sulfur than of tellurium.
— Berzelius, J.J. (1818). Undersökning af en ny Mineral-kropp, funnen i de orenare sorterna af det i Falun tillverkade svaflet. Afhandlingar i fysik, kemi och mineralogi 6, 42-144.

In this live improvisational music performance, Jean-Louis’ synthesizer will create a sonic texture with rhythms generated by a transformation of the electromagnetic spectrum of selenium. We will also use the EEGsynth, a real-time EEG analysis toolbox developed for experimental artistic and scientific explorations. It analyzes brain activity on-line for the purpose of controlling audio equipment. In this performance, EEG brain activity will control a modern version of the tape-recorder, used since the ‘40s for the creation of musique concrète. In this compositional technique recordings are spliced up and run through multiple tape heads, at varying speeds, to create novel sounds and compositions. The recording will be based on a text written by Berzelius on his discovery of selenium (Berzelius, 1818). Closing the eyes and turning attention inwards increases alpha activity (8-12Hz) while theta (4-7Hz) activity is associated with memory retrieval. In this performance the degree of alpha activity controls the speed at which the recording is played back, while theta activity will control the degree of overlap of multiple cuts of Berzelius’ text. This procedure of splicing and mixing, overlapping and looping can be seen as a metaphor for the creation of selenosysteine, the building block of selenoproteins and only protein coded for by an UGA codon which otherwise functions as a code to stop codon. So please enjoy the Mind of Berzelius, where the end is just another beginning.