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Neuroscience Technology Helps Brain Damaged Musicians Compose Music

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockFeb 9 2016, 13:01 UTC
1171 Neuroscience Technology Helps Brain Damaged Musicians Compose Music
Paramusical Ensemble – Trailer. PACMF-2015/Vimeo

Rosemary Johnson was a promising young violinist and a member of the Welsh National Opera Orchestra. But in her early 20s, severe head injuries from a devastating car crash robbed her of speech, movement, and her ability to play music.

For 27 years she has been stuck with a passion for music yet with no means to express it. However, through incredible advances in neuroscience technology, Rosemary can now use her mind to compose music again, The Telegraph reports.

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The project by Plymouth University and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London has been 10 years in the making. 

In order to pick up the patient’s thoughts, they wear an electroencephalography cap that is able to record electrical activity in the brain. By focusing on different colored lights on a computer screen, they are able to select, adapt or move musical phrases and notes. The intensity of the thought can be used to dictate the desired volume of each piece. This information is then fed onto the computer screens of performing musicians who play the adapted arrangement.

So far, Rosemary and three other disabled patients at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability have been trained to use the software. They’ve been performing with the Bergersen String Quartet, who play back their musical arrangements live. The collaboration between the patients and string quartet have called themselves The Paramusical Ensemble. A piece of their music, called Activating Memory, along with a documentary about the project will be played at the Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival in Plymouth on Saturday February 27.

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Professor Eduardo Miranda, composer and Head of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research at Plymouth University has been involved through the project. He said to The Telegraph: “The first time we tried with Rosemary we were in tears.

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“We could feel the joy coming from her at being able to make music. It was perfect because she can read music very well and make a very informed choice.”

Mary, Rosemary’s mother, added: “Music is really her only motivation. I take her to the grand piano in the hospital and she can only really play a few chords, but that was the only time she shows any interest. She doesn’t really enjoy anything else.

“But this has been so good for her. I can tell she has really enjoyed it. When she performed I went to the hospital and that is the first time I have heard her make music, other than the piano chords for a long, long time.”


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  • music,

  • neuroscience,

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  • mind-reading,

  • electroencephalography

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