MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Our connection to music is a strong one. It can put you in a better mood or help you go to sleep. But one scientist is now making music by using brain waves.
But before that, Roger Dumas was a music education major at the University of Minnesota, a drummer in bands and a master of synthesizers.
He was so good at manipulating music, you’ve likely heard his work. That’s what makes Dumas this week’s Minnesotan to Meet.
Deep in the VA Medical Center, research is being done on brain sciences. But this office, it looks and sounds more like a recording studio.
“To synthsize means to make one out of many, so you make one sound out of many parts,” Dumas said.
That’s because the man who works here, didn’t always focus on studies.
“I just loved making weird sounds,” he said.
Not really sounds, but rather, synthesizers.
“No one knew how to use them. Just me and another guy,” Dumas said.
Dumas wrote manuals for Moog Music and then ARP instruments, both synthesizer manufacturers.
“Helping people like Prince and Gene Simmons of KISS make weird sounds, Cat Stevens on his ‘Is It So’ album,” Dumas said.
Gold and platinum records hang on the wall for his work with Janet Jackson and Lipps, which performed the hit “Funkytown.”
At one point, Dumas even met John Lennon.
“Most of the sounds you hear in popular music are not made from acoustic instruments, they’re made from electronic ones,” he said.
He started music technology company Roger Dodger Music and ran it for 23 years until going back to get his masters in music technology.
While working as faculty at St. Cloud State, his work focus changed with an assignment.
“‘Can you turn this data into music?’ And I said, ‘Well sure.’ And I sent it back to the guy and the guy wrote back saying, ‘You have to meet our director. He’s anxious to meet you,'” he said.
It was brain waves from monkeys that then became music.
He now focuses on humans.
“We wanted to know if we could extract a melody from brain data,” he said.
He works in a type of studio of the mind, from a chamber that looks like a scuba helmet with wires.
Dumas extracts notes of neurons, attaching them to brain activities.
In one case, the brain mimicked the melody. This experiment is helping him better understand the brain.
“Brains track the probablity of the next note,” he said.
He’s also used other variables.
“They’re drawing a pentagon with a joy stick,” he said, of one study.
The information isn’t just interesting, but it could be used to help in the real world.
“Imagine you were locked in, you were paralyzed and needed to communicate somehow. You could use the device for communication, you could create melodies,” he said.
So far, he’s created a CD, called Pieces of Mind, that is a collection of brain activations. The brain samples are run through a synthesizer, the actual notes are events happening in subjects’ heads.
“I want to eventually create a brain to synthesizer melodic interface,” he said.
To scientists, that sounds like music to their ears.
Music can also have a big impact on your mood.
Something upbeat, like ‘Beat It’ by Michael Jackson, can get you pumped for a big presentation. Something slow by Norah Jones can be the perfect way to send yourself off to sleep.