From brainwaves to airwaves for North East university professor

Unique experiment sees Northumbria University professor create unique piece of music from his own brainwaves

Dr Jason Ellis of Northumbria University who has taken part in an experiment converting his brainwaves into soundwaves for broadcast on radio
Dr Jason Ellis of Northumbria University who has taken part in an experiment converting his brainwaves into soundwaves for broadcast on radio

A Northumbria University professor has created a unique piece of “mood music” - by tuning in to his own brain.

World-renowned sleep specialist Jason Ellis volunteered to have his brainwaves turned into soundwaves for broadcast on radio.

In what sounds like an idea from science fiction, the sleeping patterns of Jason’s brain were translated into music.

And, while it might not be Beethoven, a local choral group have managed a decent job with the dream-like results.

Jason, a professor of sleep science and director of Northumbria Sleep Centre, heard of the experimental project by Radio Arts and its international appeal for volunteers.

As part of the Radio As Dreamland project, Newcastle record label Signals had asked the sleep expert to help obtain biomedical data from sleeping subjects - and Jason offered to sleep on the job himself.

Soon he was tucked up in his own lab at the university’s sleep centre, one of just three such facilities in the UK.

He said: “I loved the suggestion of interpreting brainwaves musically. When I took part there was so much going through my head thinking about what my sleep would look like, so it took me a while to drift off!”

Experimental music group Noizechoir interpreted the recorded data of his brain activity and produced a 60-minute musical broadcast.

So what was the sound of silence like? “Weird but interesting!” says Jason. “The most striking thing for me is that I can actually hear all the nuances of sleep - breathing, brain waves, muscle movements, heart - together in one medium. That for me is a first.”

The idea of using brainwaves to make music was also explored during the 2011 ScienceFest in the North East, at events such as Music of the Mind at The Sage Gateshead.

Michael McHugh, of Signals, said this latest experiment marks “an exciting departure” from traditional sleep science.

“The field of sleep research is a relatively new area of study and the broadcast offers a new and challenging opportunity to creatively re-interpret data that is usually presented graphically,” he said.

Newcastle-based Noizechoir co-founder Lindsay Duncanson added: “Our choir is generally interested in science and this experience has been an education as we have learned all about the process of sleep.

“Stepping into someone else’s world and creating something from that has been interesting. It sparked a lot of creative thoughts and ideas – it’s been great.”

The recording was one of just four picked from submissions from across the world for broadcast this week in What Does The Dream Of The Dream Scientist Sound Like? on Resonance FM, community radio stations globally and online at www.radioarts.org.uk

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