Friday, February 17, 2012

Materials and methods: science and methodology and sound

Firstly, no posting this week as have been four days and nights at Micro Mutek and the rest of the time sleeping and working. Next post will be a review for Resident Advisor and a few more details here. Thanks to Nerone in particular and all the other people I met there for a great time.

Meanwhile, some things that have come my way.

First up is a “machine that goes ping” alert (see last post) from the final track of Function’s most recent single for the now possibly closed Sandwell District label. On the first side are two decent dance floor bangers, but they don’t really detour much from the sound or palette of Function/SD’s recent output. It’s the second side where things get more interesting. The first track “Ember (field)” is a short ambient piece, while the second “Inter”, which uses the Machine That Goes Ping, is a downbeat and quite airy track compared to the groups normal output. Both reference the collective’s recent collaboration with Bob Ostertag, particularly in the radio voices, but add some ambient colour to the more washed out tones of the album.

Meanwhile, a bizarre curiosity from Stateside. No Machine that Goes Ping here, but nonetheless a curious set of materials and methods for making a track by American group OK Go. This text taken in entirety from the video legend:

“The new music video from OK Go, made in partnership with Chevrolet. OK Go set up over 1000 instruments over two miles of desert outside Los Angeles. A Chevy Sonic was outfitted with retractable pneumatic arms designed to play the instruments, and the band recorded this version of Needing/Getting, singing as they played the instrument array with the car. The video took 4 months of preparation and 4 days of shooting and recording. There are no ringers or stand-ins; Damian took stunt driving lessons. Each piano had the lowest octaves tuned to the same note so that they'd play the right note no matter where they were struck. Many thanks to Chevy for believing in and supporting such an insane and ambitious project, and to Gretsch for providing the guitars and amps.”

Wire magazine readers will also have noticed a strong undercurrent of science in the most recent issue (Feb 2012, 336). First up and also dealing with novel material and methods is Japanese musician and acupuncturist Masaki Batoh also of psychedelic folk group Ghost. He has apparently invented the Brain Pulse Machine (BPM) in collaboration with Japanese company MKC.  The BPM converts brain activity in the frontal and parietal lobes into musical pitch signals. The first experiments from the use of the BPM, augmented with additional traditional wind and percussion instruments will be released as “Brain Pulse Music” on Drag City at the end of February. Proceeds of sales will also be donated to the Japanese Red Cross.

Batoh believes the machine, still under patent application, can have healing potential for some neurological disorders and help in meditation. It converts electrical energy from the frontal and parietal (centre-back) lobes of the brain via contact with a skull cap and into a machine that translates it into sound. Brain activity in the frontal lobe is associated with voluntary movements via the Primary Motor Cortex and also contains the highest concentration of dopamine receptors with functional links to concentration, short term memory and motivation. The parietal lobe is where sensory information is integrated into spacial and directional information. Maybe there is some relationship to pre-pulse inhibition?

Keith Fullerton Whitman was also seen enthusing about a recently published article describing the sampling rate of a mouses nose during ollfactory sensation.

"There's graphs and everything. So cool" he says. Not as cool as the findings:

"Here we show that mice can behaviourally report the sniff phase of optogenetically driven activation of olfactory sensory neurons. Furthermore, mice can discriminate between light-evoked inputs that are shifted in the sniff cycle by as little as 10 milliseconds, which is similar to the temporal precision of olfactory bulb odour responsesHere we show that mice can behaviourally report the sniff phase of optogenetically driven activation of olfactory sensory neurons. Furthermore, mice can discriminate between light-evoked inputs that are shifted in the sniff cycle by as little as 10 milliseconds, which is similar to the temporal precision of olfactory bulb odour responses"

But back to Batoh’s invention, his album  comes at the same time as a research paper in the journal PLos Biology which describes the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques to translate brain signals into words.
(MRI is not quite a Ghost Box, but one for Advisory Circle to remix?)

MRI can measure micro changes in blood flow in the brain in three dimensions by measuring differences in the atomic magnetic field of tissue, blood and bone induced as the subjects perform tasks. In this case subjects were played audio of a voice reciting words and phrases and then afterwards stimulated to think of particular words from the audio tape. The locations of brain activity were mapped and then the investigators were able to reconstitute the sounds using brain waves (BBC news item). For sound click here.

Finally, similar MRI techniques were also used in another recent study to examine the effects of the psychedelic drug psilocybin on the brain. Psilocybin is normally found in magic mushrooms and in this case was injected directly into the patients immediately prior to entering them in the MRI machine. Drugged patients were obviously compared to placebo controls. The surprising find of this study was that psilocybin actually decreases rather than increases brain activity. The hypothesis is then that the brain works to filter and control information to prevent overload, synthesesia and/or confusion. One of the effects of the drug is thus to temporally induce these states which bare several similarities to several psychological problems.

“the brain works by constraining our perceptual experiences so that its predictions of the world are as accurate as possible”

However, some critics of the study say that the investigators have only measured a fear response. Possible, since an injection of psilocybin must come on like a freight train and then being shoved inside one of those claustrophobic tunnels probably doesn’t help either.

Also out recently is a new theory  on the positioning of the stones at Stonehenge. Independent US investigator Steve Waller claims that the positioning of the stones is designed to reinforce the quiet and loud waveforms of music when two tones are played simultaneously. Waller claims

"… the stones of Stonehenge cast acoustic shadows that mimic an interference pattern."

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