Wearables can do more than just monitor your pulse and send texts from your wrist. A paralyzed violonist learned that last year, when a mind-reading headset gave her a chance to hear (and play) her music again.
In 1988, Rosemary Johnson woke up from a seven months, car-accident generated coma unable to speak or move. She would never play the violin again until a group of researchers and doctors at Plymouth University introduced her to BCMI, the brain computer music interface. This is an intelligent headset that gives active control of music by using the brain.
BCMI looks like a swimming cap and it’s packed with electrodes that monitor brain activity. After a person puts it on, it’s referred to a screen where, by using his eyes, he can choose a musical instrument that corresponds to a patterned colored square. This is further translated in musical notes or phrases, resulting in an actual score.
We think music is a very suitable domain for this kind of research because music is composed of many parts, we have many instruments playing together and why not have people composing music in real time to be played in a real time performance
Everything happens in a matter of seconds and the final score is played by a live orchestra that reads the notes from a digital screen. Nothing can be rehearsed so all the music is spontaneous and follow’s the user’s inspiration; the intensity of the music depends on how harder the user concentrates on the color pattern.
This mind-blowing technology gives a person with disabilities the chance to play again by letting him control the hands of not one person, but an entire orchestra – it’s brilliant! Musicians gain a lot from this experiment, too. For them, it’s an exciting, unpredictable way of experiencing music differently: “You don’t know what’s going to come next!”
BCMI will take center stage in a music festival, this month, in Plymouth, as the Paramusical Ensemble will interpret Activating Memory, the first piece of music created and recorded by them.