Brain Waves Make Music at the Cultural Center

Brain Waves Make Music at the Cultural Center
Kleijn playing brain waves photo/Bonnie McGrath

Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist and South Loop resident Katinka Kleijn made what some think of as beautiful music tonight.  She played her cello (which she often carries in a big white case on her back around the neighborhood) at the Chicago Cultural Center.  But the music she made was really coming from her brain.

It's a little complicated.  Kleijn played a duet--her cello and her brain waves--called "Intelligence in the Human-Machine."  The musical score she played was composed by Daniel DeHaan.  Kleijn's brainwaves, which are silent of course, were previously "recorded" and then converted to sounds with a computer.  As Kleijn played her cello, her brain waves were transmitted via an electroencephalogram headset to DeHaan and collaborator Ryan Ingebritsen, also a composer, as well as a sound artist and sound engineer.  The pair then manipulated the pre-recorded brain waves to match Kleijn's current mental state.  And thus emanates the "music."

Like I said, it was complicated.  But an enormous standing room only audience of hundreds came to experience the noisy mix in the darkened fourth floor Yates Gallery.  It had the feeling of an old-fashioned happening.  The brain waves greatly overshadowed the cello music.  They sounded like static, wheels on a bumpy road and whale songs, for starters.  The dim lighting--which could have used some dynamic highlighting--also varied slightly moment to moment  based on Kleijn's mental state, courtesy of the two composers.

I've been to many New Music concerts in the last few months, after being introduced to the genre by enthusiast Bruce Oltman, who has become a fixture in my life.  They are always attended by regular aficionados, people on a regular circuit, the usual suspects.  But tonight the audience was filled with people who were simply curious to see brain waves making music.  To experience something completely different.  And while I've heard a lot of atonal sounds and white noise in the last few months, I've never heard a brain wave.  Until tonight.

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