The Apache Pow Wow

Dancing to Your Body’s Rhythm

Anya Yang, Staff Writer

Dancing may seem like a fun hobby but, like other forms of art, science can be a powerful tool that entirely switches the sport up. McMaster University in Canada exquisitely combined art and neuroscience during Dance Brain, which took place on Sept. 20 at the university’s Large Interactive Visual Environment Lab (LIVELab). Dance Brain is a performance where a performer’s brain activity is measured through an electroencephalogram hat. The dancer’s brain waves are converted into music and then danced to on stage. This allows the performer to dance to their own biological rhythm.

McMaster University neuroscientists Steven Brown and Dan Bosnyak worked with composer and sound artist, Gordon Monahan, to create this event. Bill Coleman, a contemporary dancer, was the star of the show. Several forms of brain wave music have been produced before, but Brown explained that their performance was entirely different. In an interview with The Silhouette, he said, “People have done the sonification of brain waves as musical work but never as a dance work…We wanted for the first time to bring this to the domain of dance.”

According to Coleman, brain wave music is a perfect way to express what a contemporary dancer is feeling. It can allow every single movement to be in sync with their own rhythm. Interestingly enough, there have been several debates over the paradoxical manner of this performance. Do the brain waves dictate how Coleman is moving, or is he the one controlling it?

Converting the brain waves into music may seem like a daunting task, but Monahan explained that it was quite simple. He stated that “The signals are hooked up to a motor which plays a snare drum, as well as to another motor which plays a long wire attached to another snare drum acting as an acoustic resonator.” This was one of the most popular methods of converting the signals into music, but another one was quite favored as well. “It used multi-channel spatialized dispersion and reverberation controlled by brain waves generated in real time by the dancer,” said Monahan. He even said that “a number of plastic cups were attached to his clothing. There’s certainly an element of slapstick humor in this part of the performance.”

The interesting methods of turning brain signals into music were accompanied by instruments and amazing lights. Altogether, the entire performance was a success and showed that neuroscience and dance could truly mix together to create a beautiful piece of art.

Photo courtesy of LIVELAB.MCMASTER.CA

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Dancing to Your Body’s Rhythm