In the 1960s, avant-garde composer John Cage teamed with performance artist Alvin Lucier to produce “Music for Solo Performer,” in which Lucier triggered a cacophony of percussion instruments using his own amplified brain signals. More recently, the futurist composer Eduardo Mirando developed an EEG “brain cap” that a wearer could use to mentally select snippets of music to be simultaneously played back by a live string quartet.
Now a neurologist and amateur jazz musician from the University of Washington has taken brain-powered music one step further, claiming to have invented an instrument that enables any healthy adult to play real musical notes with nothing but their mind. Thomas Deuel, a physician who works with stroke patients at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, is the co-creator (along with Dr. Felix Darvas, a physicist at the University of Washington) of the Encephalophone, a device that instantly turns brain signals into synthesized music.
In a paper published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Deuel reported that 15 adult test subjects — most of them with no musical training — were all able to use the Encephalophone to match targeted musical tones with greater than 60 percent accuracy on average. And that was after only five minutes of practice. In a few years, they might be as good as Deuel, who has jammed with the Encephalophone live onstage, looking like a mad scientist who stumbled into a jazz club.