Two Stanford scientists - music researcher Chris Chafe and neurologist Josef Parvizi - have collaborated to build a device they’ve dubbed a “Brain Stethoscope,” which translates human neural signals into music.
Per Stanford News’ Bjorn Carey:
Parvizi, an associate professor, specializes in treating patients suffering from intractable seizures. To locate the source of a seizure, he places electrodes in patients’ brains to create electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings of both normal brain activity and a seizure state.
He shared a consenting patient’s EEG data with Chafe, who began setting the electrical spikes of the rapidly firing neurons to music. Chafe used a tone close to a human’s voice, in hopes of giving the listener an empathetic and intuitive understanding of the neural activity.
“My initial interest was an artistic one at heart, but, surprisingly, we could instantly differentiate seizure activity from non-seizure states with just our ears,” Chafe said. “It was like turning a radio dial from a static-filled station to a clear one.”
If they could achieve the same result with real-time brain activity data, they might be able to develop a tool to allow caregivers for people with epilepsy to quickly listen to the patient’s brain waves to hear whether an undetected seizure might be occurring.
It’s marvelous, really, that the Brain Stethoscope has both diagnostic and creative utility. Recognizing this, the two researchers have announced plans to install one of the devices at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, where visitors will be able to hear their own mind music in real time. (So who’s up for a roadtrip to the Cantor Center?)
The original audio of the seizure patient has been posted for listening on YouTube. Amazingly, it actually has the tension-and-release dynamics of any dramatic piece of music. Hell, I have albums that sound more or less like this patient’s seizure. We’ve posted it below, and we quote here Parvi’s annotations, culled from the comment thread, so you know what neural events you’re hearing.
Around 0:20, the patient’s seizure starts in the right hemisphere, and the patient is talking and acting normally. Around 1:50, the left hemisphere starts seizing while the right is in a post-ictal state. The patient is mute and confused. At 2:20 both hemispheres are in the post-ictal state. Patient is looking around, still confused, trying to pick at things, and get out of bed.