Scientists recreate an iconic Pink Floyd song by scanning listeners' brains

The research looked at how brains interact with music.

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You know when a certain song comes on and it encompasses your whole being for a few minutes? Music has a way of causing a unique and engaging stimulation in your brain, one that scientists are working to understand and mimic. Such was the case in a recent study published in PLOS Biology in which researchers successfully implemented technology that recreated Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1 solely using brain activity. It utilized a technique known as stimulus reconstruction and built on previous innovations allowing researchers to recreate a song akin to the one a person had heard.

The 29 participants had pharmacoresistant epilepsy and intracranial grids or strips of electrodes which had been surgically implanted to aid in their treatment. Researchers utilized these electrodes to record activity across multiple auditory regions of the individuals’ brains that process aspects of music like lyrics and harmony — while the participants actively listened to Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1. The entirety of the recordings took place at Albany Medical Center, in upstate New York.

Scientists used AI to analyze then create a copy of the words and sounds participants had heard. Though the final product was quite muffled, but the song is clear to anyone listening so you can check it out for yourself. The researchers are also confident that they could increase its quality in future attempts.

The listening experience primarily engaged the right side of participants’ brains, mostly in the superior temporal gyrus and especially when absorbing unique music. There was also a small level of stimulation in the left side of the brain. Researchers further found that a point in the brain’s temporal lobe ignited when the 16th notes of the rhythm guitar played while the song played at 99 beats per minute.

This finding could provide more insight into the part that area plays in processing rhythm. It could also aid in restoring people who have lost their speech ability, through conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Instead of creating a monotone, almost robot-like response, better understanding the way a brain processes and responds to music might lead to more fluid prosthetics for speech.