A new brain-computer interface can pick up neural impulses and translate them into musical notes. Keeping in the theme of other interfaces that allow people to type with their minds or control prosthetic limbs with thought alone, this new system is groovy for both musicians and people suffering from neuromuscular disabilities like paralysis.
To use the device, a player wears an EEG skull cap and concentrates on four small “buttons” on a screen. Each corresponds to a series of musical notes; one is selected when the player focuses on it, since his or her brain triggers a unique pattern of electrical impulses for each button. This takes a little time and calibration to get right – it took two hours for a patient with locked-in syndrome, a paralysis of all but the eyes, at the University of Essex during trials. But after that, she was rocking out, playing notes over a backup track.
The system's designer, composer and computer-music researcher Eduardo Miranda, realized the potential for using such a device in music therapy more than a decade ago while looking into ways he could make music using brain waves (as he told Nature News). Now he's hooked on developing the system. In the future, Miranda and his team hope to streamline it so that players don't need to spend hours training and calibrating. Instead, the device will operate based on algorithms which can intuit, so to speak, which notes are desired.