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Japanese performance artist using willing subject’s brain waves to create sound

Thinking person's music

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/5/2013 (1560 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TOKYO’S mad scientist of music, Masaki Batoh, captures sound waves from the pulsing of the human brain.

The 48-year-old acupuncturist and frontman of the Japanese psych-rock collective Ghost is making his Winnipeg debut at the West End Cultural Centre with a concert in which a local woman will provide the brain waves.

Japanese acupuncturist/musician Masaki Batoh hooked up to his Brain Pulse Music machine.

Japanese acupuncturist/musician Masaki Batoh hooked up to his Brain Pulse Music machine.

"It’s like walking into the rabbit hole," says volunteer/g uinea pig Tanja Woloshen. "It’s exciting and frightening. I don’t know what to expect."

As a dancer with the Young Lungs Dance Exchange, the 38-year-old Woloshen is used to hitting the stage unencumbered, but this time she will don an ominous sci-fi gizmo on her head that looks geared for people suffering from a spinal injury. There are also goggles with changing LED lights inside that add to a scene that might take place in Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s lab.

"I’m interested in this contraption that he’s going to put on my head," says Woloshen, a Silver Heights Collegiate graduate. "It looks bizarre. It looks like something from those strange psychological tests in the ’70s."

Although the sensor-laden headgear will be a curiosity for many in the audience, it is serious business for Batoh, who developed his Brain Pulse Music machine with the help of a Japanese medical engineer in 2010. The instrument picks up brain waves from the frontal and parietal lobes and sends them via radio waves to the motherboard, which converts them into electronic sound.

His BPM machine was devised to provide relief for patients with developmental disorders such as ADD and ADHD and makes the user conscious of negative increases in brain activity.

The goal, in a therapeutic session, is for the user to control or calibrate his thoughts with the guidance of the machine to achieve total relaxation.

Turning the wave into music — brain pulse music —happened after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. It helped a lot of his cases.

"Personally, it should be a very sad and awful memory," Batoh writes via email. "But it was not like that because I had lots of patients who suffered the mental problems from terrible shock. I cannot describe how much they were afraid."

His 2012 album, Brain Pulse Music (Drag City), his first solo album since the mid-’90s, was intended as a prayer and requiem for his stricken country and included two BPM machine recordings. It sounds like a harmonic drone.

What does the strangest brain pulse music sound like?

"Ocean," says Batoh, who claims he doesn’t listen to any music other than his own. "Or tears."

Batoh says his machine, which is available for $700 online at www., was born out of both medical and musical interests. What he thought could be a benefit for his patients also became a musical instrument for an improviser.

Does the BPM machine reveal the emotional state of the user?

"It’s impossible," he says, "because BPM only reacts to alpha second wave. When (patients experience) anger or panic, like in case of epilepsy, the sound stops right away. Every patient must be in the states of emptiness. Just leave yourself."

Woloshen is curious about Batoh’s work, as she has long been interested in how technology can interface with dance. She hopes his device can offer another perspective on the relationship between machine and body.

There is also the worry that something inside of her will be revealed and she doesn’t know what it will be.

"My dance is about transformation and sharing and intimacy and how can we all let go of our egos and masks, and how can we be real," she says. "Maybe this will allow me to look at this in a different way."

Batoh says the audience for brain pulse music is "all the persons who are interested in spiritual phase."

He is currently on a tour of United States and Canada.

"It is a big honour to me," he says. "I truly respect Canadian people who have been generous in race problems and peaceful."

Woloshen, who has been dancing since she was 16, says her appearance with Batoh will be the strangest thing she’s ever done onstage. She predicts the concert will draw the musical adventurers, as well as those from psychology and healing circles.

"I think it’s something very different that Winnipeg has never seen," she says. "I think there is a sweeping perplexity about it. Most of us don’t know what’s going to happen.

"I’m choosing to do it. I was asked two months ago so I’ve had lots of time to back out."


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