Imagine your passion is making music. Then imagine one day that you are stricken by a terrible misfortune: a spinal cord injury, say, or a debilitating disease like ALS. What would you do?

That’s right, make music with your mind. Back in 2013, Smirnoff sponsored a collab between DJ Fresh, Julien Castet, and three disabled musicians – Andy Walker, Mark Rowland, and Jo Portois – to do just that. They created Mindtunes.

My favourite part of the video? When Mark nonchalantly declares:

I’d like to produce a big, fat, dirty, epic, dubstep tune.

While this video is awesome, it’s pretty low on detail in terms of how they actually accomplished what they did. To quote Julien Castet, the neurotech guy:

We try to transform emotions into brain waves, and brain waves into sound waves. Then you have music, that’s it.

A little further digging unearths that yes, they used EEG BCIs (Familiar acronyms now, huh? 🙂 Specifically, I spied with my little eye a few pairs of Emotiv EPOC+) and additional facial recognition (to detect smiling, or blinking, as you can see in the video), then pieced those inputs together to select and modulate various sounds.

In the Smirnoff Mindtunes platform each musician had his very own interface, which had visual feedback. This interface was based on emotion detection, such as noticing relaxation, interest, a smile, movement of eyes and so on. Every detection was linked with musical input to play a clip, filter, delay etc. This mapping can then be tailor-made to the individual musician depending on their physical constraints and obviously their musical ideas.

Obviously this application is pretty rad, and can do a lot to further our conversation about different levels or modalities of ability. But moreover, you can imagine such technology being used to unlock a lot of other potential: even quotidian things that we take for granted, like movement (DIY brain-controlled wheelchairs, anyone?) or speech.

PS: If you want to support Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People, you can buy the track through iTunes.

Your thoughts?

But seriously, how crazy awesome is the idea of making (or, to be pedantic, arranging) music with your mind? Would you want to try it? Let me know by dropping me a line to sabbatical@mashakrol.com, or leave a comment below. I sure would love to!

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