A pioneering research project which enabled four people living with severe disability to ‘control’ a string quartet has earned its creator a prestigious award nomination.
Professor Eduardo Miranda, Director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR) at the University of Plymouth, has been shortlisted in the Community or Educational Project category of the 2016 British Composer Awards.
Presented by BASCA and sponsored by PRS for Music, in association with BBC Radio 3, the awards aim to celebrate the art of composition and showcase the creative talent of contemporary composers and sound artists.
Professor Miranda received his nomination for Activating Memory, a four-year research project conducted in conjunction with the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability (RHN) in London.
It enabled patients at the hospital, with neurological conditions such as Locked-In Syndrome, to interact with musicians using a Brain Computer Music Interface (BCMI).
Developed in Plymouth, the technology allows a person to control musical systems using readings of brain signals detected through electrodes placed on the scalp.
It was used for the first time during a concert at the RHN in July last year, with a film of the performance premiered at the 2016 Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival.
Professor Miranda, one of the directors of the Contemporary Music Festival, said:
“Being nominated for this award is a great honour, and recognition that our research is having real impact at a national level. Through Activating Memory, our aim was to give people an opportunity to put their physical impediments aside, and use music to communicate in ways that would not normally be possible. It is an amazing example of research being taken out of the laboratory and into the real world, with both inspiring and very emotional results.”
For the July 2015 performance, each of the four patients connected to the BCMI generated the musical parts to be performed by a different member of the string quartet in real-time.
The participants were given four options of musical phrases displayed on a panel, which they selected by staring at lights flashing next to them.
The BCMI detected which phrase had been selected by each participant – by reading the electrical activity of their visual cortex – and sent the phrases to the string quartet to perform. The resulting piece lasted around 20 minutes.
The winners of the British Composer Awards will be announced in an event at the British Film Institute (BFI) on Tuesday 6 December, and BBC Radio 3 will broadcast exclusive coverage of the Awards on Hear and Now on Saturday 10 December.