Music of the Mind
March 1, 2013 by Zoe
Toronto musician Dean Williams scored the final track for our Sonic Tour of the Brain mixtape – a remix of all the recordings we used for our auditory tour of the mind. You can listen to his unprecedented composition here. Learn more about just how he made this spectacularly singular score by using your eyes, not your ears, here…
When Guerilla Science asked if I was interested in composing a small bit of music to accompany their project The Sonic Tour of the Brain, my answer was immediate, profane, and in the affirmative. I was delighted to get a chance to apply some daubs of art to their science and be, if only briefly, aboard their motley caravan of learning and revelry.
I was handed a folder of sound files – some quite strange and beautiful – oddly distant-sound EEG recordings of epileptic seizures; a single auditory nerve firing; bubbling up from a sea of static, to the unsettling sound of computers attempting to recognize words being spoken via MRI technology, to the just plain visceral – a bone saw in use; gelatinous material sloshing in a tray.
Really more an exercise in Frankenstein science than biology, my task was to stitch together something vaguely musical from the sounds at hand.
My self-imposed limitation was to use nothing but the supplied source material – the sounds you hear exhibited in Guerilla Science’s ‘Sonic Tour of the Brain’ – no synthesizers, no drums, no fife or guitar for that matter – just this oddly unsettling collection of sounds. I applied effects such as digital delay, reverb, and equalizers/filters to add a bit of flair.
The use of the bone saw in the opening is a bit apparent, but snippets of it were also used to create the rhythmic clicking in the first few seconds. The first kick drum you hear is a slowed down sample of the ‘brain-like’ substance sloshing in a tray, as is the snare that enters 4 bars later. The ‘melodic’ elements that come in soon after are actually a single EEG blip from the recording of an epileptic seizure, pitched and stretched somewhat to be recognizable as something musical. The chords that swell up shortly after are actually layered loops of the 12000hz frequency tone used to illustrate hearing loss as one ages. One of the most useful pieces of sound in creating percussive sounds was the long recording of the box of matches being used to illustrate binaural sound positioning – this was used to construct a ‘drum kit’ from around the 1:12 mark onward. My apologies if you’re able to hear the quick burst of the ‘mosquito tone’ at about 1:44 – I sadly can’t, as years of hard living have left me unable to hear that frequency.
To be sure, the task took on a life of its own, as I sat highly caffeinated and thoroughly creeped out, bathed in the ghost-light of my monitor, listening to reverberating pulses, struggling neurons, seizures and surgeries; my own brain adding phantom notes and I adding these phantom notes as real notes to the composition. All said this was constructed over two 6-8 hour sessions. It was, in layman’s terms, pretty goddamn fun.
Whether or not this was a success in the final accounting is not for me to say – while the brain is unlikely to adhere to a 4/4 rhythm or progress in such a logical arc, if nothing else, you can be assured that what you hear are some of the sounds that it makes. Please know I am sincere in my hope that it triggers the synapses responsible for enjoyment in the sloshing pan of jelly you carry around atop your neck.