A Monk in your brain

Would you like to hear how your mind sounds? How did Beethoven’s brain sound when he was composing his Grosse Fugue? How did Einstein’s brain sound while he was writing his seminal papers on relativity? It turns out that it is now possible to hear the inner music of the brain. Researchers have turned human mental activity into music and you know what? It sounds like free jazz.

There is growing interest in the relation between the brain and music. The appealing similarity between brainwaves and the rhythms of music has motivated many scientists to seek a connection between them. In the past years, a few methods have been developed to translate human EEG to music. The amplitude and the period of EEG waveforms can be translated to music pitch, duration and intensity. In a paper published last week by the on-line journal PLoS One, a group of neuroscientists from China’s University of Electronic Science and Technology describe how to use simultaneously recorded EEG and fMRI signals to generate a music score.

A musical tone is characterised by its pitch, timbre, duration and intensity. In this work, the authors has paid special attention to pitch, duration and intensity,  and they used a fixed piano timbre (which of course it could be changed according to a person’s preference.) The EEG waveform amplitude and period, and the fMRI signal are mapped to pitch, duration and intensity respectively:

The authors argue that the resulted EEG-fMRI sounds closer to the man-made real music when compared with music generated using only EEG waveforms. You can judge for yourself by listening to the following samples:

If you are a jazz fan maybe you can help me identify who could have improvised similar samples. Don’t they sound a bit like Cecil Taylor in Indent or Chucho Valdes in Solo Piano? Maybe Monk?


Featured Image: Thelonius Monk by Todd Stahl


  1. […] Ultimate Melody”. The story describes the work of a scientist who attempts to discover the connection between music and the rhythms of the electrical pulses in the brain. He believed that all “hit-tunes” were merely poor reflections of an […]

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