Brad Garton/Dave Soldier

The Brainwave Music Project
Mulatta MUL 038

Few people would dispute that creating improvised music takes particular brain power. Now musician-scientists Brad Garton and Dave Soldier have taken this concept one step further: using electroencephalograph (EEG) sensors linked to software to transform brainwaves into sounds. The Brainwave Music Project links the impulses from brainwave-triggered synthetic digital musical instruments in a live situation where musicians improvising on standard instruments play alongside sound loops generated from their own brainwaves. Conceptionally imposing the resulting music, while of high quality, resembles equivalent electro-acoustic experiments, without characteristic individuality.

A violinist, who leads the Pun-Chamber Soldier String Quartet, does arrangements for pop bands and soundtrack work, Soldier is also a neuroscientist and computer musician. Meanwhile he and Garton have been presenting the results of their brain-wave-musical research for about a decade. On this disc, the brain-wave loops share sonic space with the flute of Margaret Lancaster, the Hardanger fiddle of Dan Trueman, Terry Pender’s mandolin and William Hooker’s drums.

Perhaps because of the percussive nature of the looped, responsive brain-waves, Lancaster, whose overblowing technique is dour and austere and Hooker’s percussion create the most notable musical accords. With tongue splatters or speedy tone interlays the flutist fluttering timbres against the blunt rhythms that could come from vibe resonation, string stopping and percussion tumble connect imposingly. Hooker, who has been involved with all sorts of solo and group experiments since the 1970s, meets another challenge head on. Creating the illusion that he’s part of a small ensemble, on “The Wheels”, for instance organ-like tremolos, vibe-like syncopation and keyboard slides are given direction by his press rolls, rasps and stick rattling.

For its part, “The Wild” could be a jam session in laboratory space with Hooker’s smashes and clashes situated within combo intimation including a pseudo-plunger trombone, dynamic piano riffs and some cerebellum-created (?) sort-of-vocalizing. The string players have different experience. With the Hardanger fiddle’s additional strings adding sympathetic reverberations to the blurry echoes and splashes produced from the EEG sensors, further mixed with narrow sul ponticello thrusts, the effect is like outer space old-timey music. On “Histamine”, Trueman’s flying sweeps and crabbed variations create a contrapuntal melody to what otherwise might be a jittery polka played by aliens. Fast-moving, Pender’s mandolin twangs and chromatic runs make places for themselves on a track like “Amygdala” among loops of bell-shaking, drum beats and accordions bellow sighs. Oddly enough though the overall string-like clanking on a piece like “Cerebellum” emphasis speed at the expense of thematic centre.

Playing music isn’t brain surgery and demands disparate skills. But without entering the cerebrum, using sensors to distill the brain’s electrical activity only produces unique musical performance when linked to the right sophisticated improvisers as this CD demonstrates.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Bible School Vacation 2. Taco Tuesday 3. Harajuku Hiccup 4, Serotonin 5. Adrenaline 6. Dopamine 7. Histamine 8. Amygdala 9. Insula 10. Cerebellum 11. The Wheels 12. Initiates 13. Rational Entities 14. The Wild

Personnel: Dave Soldier (musician/neuroscientist); Brad Garton (composer/computer-musician) plus Margaret Lancaster (flute and EEG) [tracks 1-3]; Dan Trueman (Hardanger fiddle and EEG) [tracks 4-7]; Terry Pender (mandolin & EEG) [tracks 8-10]; William Hooker (drums and EEG) [tracks 11-14]