AES Section Meeting Reports

Pacific Northwest - October 25, 2017

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The PNW Section Oct 2017 meeting was about the Encephalophone, a "thought control" musical device. The meeting was held at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA. There were 48 attendees including 20 AES members.

Chair Dan Mortensen noted upcoming Section meetings, then asked attendees to introduce themselves and briefly describe their connection to audio, or to the topic of the evening.

Meeting organizer Stephen DeVore introduced guest speaker, Dr. Thomas A.S. Deuel. Dr. Deuel is a musician/sound artist, neurologist, and neuroscientist. He has been a University of Washington Acting Assistant Professor at the UW School of Music's DXARTS (Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media). He is also Staff Physician/Neurophysiologist for Swedish Hospital, Seattle, WA. He has received several awards and grants for his work, and has given several invited talks on the Encephalophone. Some of his creative works may be found at

After his introduction, Dr. Deuel explained the basics of Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI), starting with electroencephalography (EEG), a technique used to measure and record brain activity. Typical waveforms of brain area activity were shown, along with the fact that a simple eye blink causes a huge activity spike. Detecting exactly what one is thinking is not so easy.

As early as 1929, the concept of making music with EEGs was discussed. By 1965, Alan Lucier wrote a composition where percussion would be played with eye blinks, and John Cage participated. In the 1970s, pieces were attempted by David Rosenboom.

Recent technological developments have gradually enhanced the capabilities, and led to Dr. Deuel's Encephalophone, a brain-computer interface music device.

The Encephalophone is a hands-free musical instrument, using EEG "brain-waves" to allow users to generate music using only thought control, without movement. It is based on using Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) to harness the electrical brain signals to create music in real-time using conscious "thought" control. It has been experimentally shown to work with reasonable accuracy, and is being used in clinical trials with patients with motor disability caused by stroke, MS, ALS, or spinal cord injury to enable these patients to create music in real-time without needing to move.

While directly inserting electrodes into areas of the brain detects activity much better, this isn't so practical in most cases, so surface EEG gear is used. The "player" has to imagine moving their hand to play only 8 notes, and a lot of training (and rehearsal) is needed. Dr. Deuel thinks this system may never be accurate enough to play complex music, but can be fun for improvising. He showed video of him playing with a jazz combo, where he played a little solo by EEG, and used pedals for volume and sustain. He also showed a video about his clinical work with a patient who suddenly could no longer sing in tune (Amusia) due to a brain lesion, but who appeared to be able to use the technology to regain some ability.

After the refreshment break, door prizes were awarded.

Finally, Chair Dan Mortensen reported on the recent AES convention in NYC, showing a short video and recounting his experience presenting a historical lecture on the Columbia Records 30th street studio in NYC.

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AES - Audio Engineering Society