Barbican Weekender presents Brain Waves: Music of the Mind

  music of the mind

Originally published on The Upcoming on 5th March 2013

Former London Young Jazz Award winner, Finn Peters rounded off the Barbican’s trailblazing Brain Waves weekend (part of Barbican Weekender and the Barbican’s Wonder: Art and Science on the Brain series) with a performance of selected tracks taken from his innovative 2010 album, Music of the Mind.

The record saw Peters collaborate with a team of scientific researchers, Professor Mark d’Inverno, Dr Mick Grierson and Dr Matthew Yee-King, using cutting edge technology known as brain computer interfaces to read brainwaves, and employing various techniques to convert them into music.

All four introduced the performance with a brief explanation of their methods. For some tracks readings would be taken from Peters’ brain using electrodes, and he would use the sounds extracted as a starting point for his compositions. In other instances, computer software would react in real time to Peters’ improvisations, creating dynamic pieces.

“I think the brain and music are both a bit of a mystery,” remarks Peters. So is this a perfect marriage of science and art? Well, not quite.

The performance’s billing described it as “Like nothing you’ve heard out loud before”, though in reality most of the tracks had a very recognisable cool jazz sensibility, underscored in some numbers by noises that sounded like they were straight out of Doctor Who (though these were for the most part drowned out by the more traditional instruments).

The music was accompanied by a projection of kitsch videos depicting the performers in lab coats carrying out experiments in surreal locations, with syncopated camera-work adding to the somewhat distorted effect. Three of the performers wore futuristic-looking headsets, with one rooted to a laptop throughout. However, exactly how the brainwaves were influencing the music wasn’t always clear, which detracted from the overall experience.

Peters is undoubtedly a talented musician and his attempts to innovate should be applauded, but on this evidence, the music, much like the technology behind it, is still in development.

Launched with the Brain Waves weekend, the Wonder: Art and Science on the Brain programme at the Barbican is presented in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, a charitable foundation for medical advancement – a fitting collaboration to explore the points of connection between science and the arts.

And if Peters’ performance of Music of the Mind teaches us anything, it’s perhaps that the beauty of art is that it’s always an inexact science.

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