World-changing ideas summit

Music can have a powerful effect on our bodies. A good melody can send a flood of emotion through us or create an uncontrollable, fist-pumping urge to dance.

Studies have shown that when listening to a piece of music we enjoy, our brains respond by lighting up with electrical activity.

Grace Leslie, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, is trying to explore this link between music and our brains in a very different way. She spoke about her work at BBC Future’s recent World-Changing Ideas Summit in Sydney.

Leslie is creating music from the signals produced by her own body

Using equipment that monitors the electrical activity of her brain, changes in her heart rate and subtle shifts in the conductance of her skin, she is creating music from the signals produced by her own body while on stage.

Leslie plays these signals through an electronic synthesiser to produce ambient sounds that reflect what is going on in her body. She can also filter the sounds from musical instruments, like a flute, with the signals from her body to mix them together in a computer. Here's what it sounds like:

 

Ultimately, Leslie believes this innovative form of musical expression could be used to help those who have difficulty interacting with the world, such as those with autism. Speaking to BBC Future in Sydney last month, she describes in the video below how such “expressive arts therapy” could help patients to recognise and regulate their mood:

Correction: An earlier version of this article contained unrelated Soundcloud tracks that were part of a collaborative project. We apologise for the mistake.

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