Scientists are developing an intelligent music computer which can analyse a person's brain activity when they listen to sounds and then composes new music designed to make them happy. Researchers, who believe the mood-altering music-writing software can help combat stress and depression, will unveil the first composition created by the project at a music festival in Plymouth.
The project is being led by Dr Eduardo Miranda, a composer and professor at Plymouth University's Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR), and Dr Slawomir Nasuto, a professor in the Cybernetics Research Group at the University of Reading.
Using Artificial Intelligence techniques, the computer will play music and analyse the brain activity of the listener for emotional indicators. Based on this feedback, and a programmed knowledge of music, it will generate new sounds that can alter these emotions.
The project has been awarded a £880,000 grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The first public demonstration of the research was a concert entitled Symphony of Minds Listening, in which the second movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony will be 'remixed' and reassembled to reflect the brain-scanned activity of three volunteers during listening.
"We all know music affects mood but we don't really know how," said Dr Mrianda. "We want to see if we can find musical melodies or rhythms which elicit specific moods. Which kind of musical features in composition elicit physical signatures in brain patterns? Our project is to build a new system for musical composition."
Three volunteers — a classic ballerina, a Gulf War veteran and Dr Miranda himself — have undergone functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans as they listened to the Beethoven Symphony.
Having analysed their emotional responses, with the help of bespoke artificial intelligence software developed at ICCMR, Dr Miranda re-structured the original orchestral score to reflect the volunteers' brain activity during listening. Dr Miranda said: "There's a lot of differences in the way people listen. With the classical ballerina there was a lot of activation around the motor cortex because she listens to music based on the kind of movement she can make.
"I deconstructed the 2nd Movement and reassembled and modified the rhythms and melodies based on information from the brain scans," he said.
The ballerina's brain yielded mostly rhythmic deviations from the original, whiles Dr Miranda's produced mostly harmonic deviations. Dr Miranda has posted a preview of his composition, scored for a string quartet, a flute and a clarinet, on the Soundcloud music-sharing website. The "mood-altering music computer" could have a number of therapeutic applications.
"If you have depression, instead of getting drugs to treat it, imagine if you could take people to a musician instead?," Dr Miranda said. "You would go to see a musician and they would diagnose what kind of music they could be listening to, to improve their condition."
The entertainment industry could also benefit. "It could be used for cinema and advertising. The holy grail in advertising is to induce the correct emotion in a viewer." But musicians, whose livelihoods depend on writing pieces which unversalise human emotions using their own artistic intuition, may be concerned that they are being written out of the script altogether.
Dr Miranda predicts a Hollywood revolution in which "a computer system analyses the emotions its sees in the faces of film characters. The system then comes up with ideas to speed up the compositional process for a film soundtrack. When we get the results I will approach industries ranging from health to entertainment."
Jessie Ware, the Brit Award-nominated singer, said: "It's a very exciting project and I'd love to see how it works. But I hope it doesn't wipe every musician out of a job. I'd like to think musicians themselves have the ability to inspire and move listeners in the way I have been by particular singers." (Adam Sherwin/The Independent)