For the past 5 years, I’ve wondered (read: hoped) technology and neuroscience would advance to the point where music is created without strings, horns, keys, or buttons, but with the mind. It looks like the future is upon us, because Masaki Batoh and a company called MKC have created this device, named the BPM Machine, for capturing brain waves and converting them to musical tones. The sensors and wires of this cap use electric signals in Batoh’s brain to generate different “theremin-like tones.”
From the Wired article:
Batoh calls the device a BPM Machine. The unusual musical instrument, which the musician had developed and built by a company called MKC, consists of the strange-looking headgear and a motherboard. Brain waves are picked up from the parietal and frontal lobes, then sent by radio waves to the motherboard, which converts the radio waves into a wave pulse that is output as sound. (See the full setup below)
The BPM Machine’s bizarre goggles have indicator lamps synchronized with the motherboard so the performer can see their brain’s musical output. Batoh said it takes practice to learn how to control one’s mind in a way that produces a pleasing sound.
Imagine seeing a visual graph of your brain waves and states presented in front of you so that you may control their shape and tone. This is absolutely the most cerebral, psychedelic means of producing music that I have ever heard or seen. I would be completely mesmerized if I had one of these. I’d sit for hours learning to control my brain waves and make different sounds. While it’s not exactly as advanced as mental music technology I’ve been fantasizing about–one wherein a composer could think all of the different parts to a song and the music would be produced in the native instruments’ voices–the BPM Machine opens the Pandora box of combining neuro-imaging technology with music synthesizers.
Batoh is no stranger to the weirder side of the Japanese music scene. He used to be the lead of Japanese 80’s experiemental rock band Ghost. On February 28th of this year, he released his solo album Brain Pulse Music, which likely gave the BPM machine its name:
Brain Pulse Music is a collection of prayers and requiems for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Two are BPM Machine recordings and the other five were made with traditional Japanese instruments, using rhythms and melodies commonly heard in provincial festivals and religious rites.
Batoh is donating proceeds from the album to the Japanese Red Cross and his label, Drag City, will also be selling BPM Machines for $700 each, with proceeds going to help victims of the natural disaster.
That’s right, his label is SELLING THESE THINGS. I need to get another job so I can save up for one of these quicker. Seriously though, I might buy one if I can. The BPM machine is the absolute synthesis of my three biggest loves: neuroscience, music, and technology. How could I not buy one? Hopefully they take great care with their shipping and handling. It can be a bumpy flight or ship-ride from Japan.
Here’s a promotional video I found on Youtube for the BPM machine. In the video, a woman is wearing the BPM machine and not Batoh. I’m not sure if he can play it much better or if the technology is not quite there yet. It’s probably the latter, because this stuff is ground-breaking.