Space, Physics, and Math

Tapping the Brain’s Electric Music

At a meeting of Brooklyn's Secret Science Club, neuroscientist and composer Dave Sulzer explains how our brains compose music — even when we're completely unaware of it.

March 26, 2008

Join me for an evening at the Brooklyn Philharmonic with Brooklyn’s very own Secret Science Club. At the event, Columbia University neuroscientist and composer Dave Sulzer (aka Dave Soldier) explains how our brain waves are constantly making music, even without our effort. Using his computer and a primitive electroencephalogram (EEG) headband, Sulzer demonstrates this music to participants at the event and explains how we can consciously alter our brain waves to modify the cerebral symphony. Following Sulzer’s demonstration, watch the Brooklyn Philharmonic unleash the suggestive powers of music played by fingers and lips with a performance of “Dharma at Big Sur,” a piece for electric violin by American composer John Adams.

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Haydn says:

I find it very interesting that Dr. Sulzer views our brain activity in a musical context, and that one can compose unconsciously. It just seems that these unconscious events are independent of creativity and more importantly intention. my question is then, without these elements, can we label this as composition or even music? Your thoughts?

Haydn, good point.

I would say we have the possibility for both “prosthetic” EEG music where you try to operate the EEG is an instrument, for example by thinking of moving your arm or pinching yourself or shutting your eyes (classic move to increase alpha wave amplitude) and “unconscious” music where you don’t control the sounds on purpose. I’ll put examples of both on my website. In the “unconscious” approach, I guess it is shares some aspects to playing a CD, – in both cases you decide if you are going to initiate music or not – which I’m not clear is the same as whether it is music or not, or making music or not.

The best way to test if it is music could be an “Adapted Turing Test” where you play it for listeners who don’t know what it is and ask them if it is music or not.

I wrote an article about these points, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” that you can download from
Seems that the unconscious has now joined malevolent forces with kids and animals.

Dr. J. Semo says:

Dear Prof. Soldier

Have you checked the difference in the music generated by the brain between nREM and REM sleep?

Thank you for your reply


PS Could it be a Bach versus an Eric Clapton?

hi JS

We haven’t yet, but just as you suggest, we should get slow adagio events (from one every two seconds up to three a second, known as “delta wave”) during normal sleep, and much faster and more intricate events during REM. In the meantime, you can hear a composition by brainwaves that laughter produces – has some nice effects depending where you are in your cortex- while I was reading Stephen Colbert’s book: I’ve put that piece and a couple of others at

K. says:

Oh, dear Dave. I will read the articles that you proposed in this litle meeting point into a relative big net. I’ve visited in three times places that at first time offers to you an every time incrementing atraction and curiosity acomplained with people that seems like your servients that are every time ready to satisfate your egoical dependences that are realy sweet. And all with an objective to brings you to that place. I began to investigate after live an horrible experience of in few seconds lose all the energy from every margin of frequency levels, of my physycal body, then psyqical, emotional, instintive, sensitive. The result of this fenomen generates an terrible fear, horror. You understand what I mean, and is this deep terror is the mistake that any person manifestate because is the gate that gives the posibility to the creators of this “fucking bad compositions” to absorbe all the energy of an inconcient person. But I als know that is temporal for booth parts. Temporal feeling of nogthing and temporal pleasure for who create the composition. Please write me how before its possible, is necesary open a big project in a litle posibility. Remember that is wery dangerous tool, for many people who are not concient the deep that this knowlege can arrive for others and for thereselves. Ver big bad is to go farer in subconcient energy movements than the concience can manipulate and to create circles that are easly detecteble from part of people who understand how to work with there rsonanses and relativities. So in case of helping its posible same perfectly like to manipulate.

Please write me, at my mail, I think we need to meet maybe you can help me to solve little details and I’ll be very pleased to help you if there are something that I can.

My batery is finishing “of laptop” I have to send this before loose this message.

I wait your notices, and please if we can speak in private to syncronize and determine if our objectives are acording in something, I hope so.

Thank you.


Sergei says:

Music Teaching Technology for Beginners.

Jaylene says:

All of my qseutions settled—thanks!

xlpharmacy says:

It sounds pretty interesting that you have a secret science club. It sounds that you have different scientist even mad scientist.

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