Neuroscience-music composition

Recording, research, replay


As an example of the creative use of pre-recorded EEG, is the performance Hypnotic Feedback. At Rönnells antikvariat, the wonderful second-hand bookstore in Stockholm, 1+1=3 presented a musical improvisation while Jean-Louis was under hypnosis, and while his synthesizer was controlled by signals based on EEG recordings of Per’s hypnosis session back in Paris. The hypnotic task was to make “sonic sense” of the disordered brain signals and to “put Per back together”. It is as of yet unclear whether we succeeded in that, but the event did provide an engaging performance and a platform for many topics of discussion with an inspired audience.

The event started with a brief introduction about the technology that is used as well as the underlying scientific, artistic and philosophical ideas. The three of us also talked about how medical hypnosis changes the allocation of attention and modifies the regular functions of cognitive control. Before the event began, Hernan had hypnotized Jean-Louis. The hypnosis made Jean-Louis believe that his modular synthesizer controlled Per’s brain and mental capacities. He was asked to “made sense of Per’s brain” and to “put it back together.”

Although Jean-Louis had prepared the modular patches, after the hypnotic suggestion he found it hard to start as he felt confused about the synthesizer (or brain) sudden disorganization. The hypnosis worked! Luckily, after a couple of minutes of familiarizing himself he was increasingly able to develop an interesting soundscape from the EEG-derived control signals. While the improvisation unfolded, Per mixed videos of the original hypnotic session in Paris with close-up videos of Jean-Louis working his synthesizer. The two images were often superimposed so that the identities were mixed, just like the music was a mixture of their hypnotized brains interacting. In other words, the performance was a reflection on how thinking, creation and mental activity interact when translated into different formats or languages: The EEG recording offers one form of language, the musical compositions another and the moving images a third. Everyone in the room could take in them at the same time, without necessarily knowing how one informed the other. 

From an artistic perspective, the project offered a reflection on artistic authorship and control. Art relates to – and reflects on – control and degrees of freedom: for the composer it is a question of “controlling” the orchestra, for the musicians to “control” their instruments. But this performance exposed other forms of control as well, since Jean-Louis and Per affect each other in ways that remain more or less outside of their control. This loss of control opened new questions: was Per, Jean-Louis or Hernan the author of the sounds and images? Who controlled whom? The format of the performance and the interactions between us and the audience therefor forced us to look at the parameters of improvisation, creation and collaboration differently.

EEG recordings at Ecole Normale Superieure (while being hypnotized)

Rönnells antikvariat, September 7th, 2017, Stockholm, Sweden