Josef Parvizi, a neurologist at Stanford Medical Center, was listening to a musical group perform a piece that was based on radio signals from outer space when he was struck with the idea of setting the brain’s electrical activity to music. He then teamed up with Chris Chafe, a professor of music research at Stanford and one of the world’s experts at ‘musification’ or converting natural signals to music.
Parvizi gave Chafe the electroencephalogram or EEG recording of a consenting patient and Chafe converted the data to music by using a tone that was close to a human’s voice. When they listened to the resulting musical piece, they realized that they can easily differentiate the seizure activity from the non-seizure state.
This led to them developing a biofeedback tool that can help caregivers of people with epilepsy listen to their patient’s brain activity in real time and be able to detect whether a seizure may be occurring.
The tool, which Parvizi and Chafe are calling a “brain stethoscope,” can help caregivers, especially those without medical backgrounds, watch out for signs of an incoming seizure by listening to the brain activity of their patients. The device will help the caregivers identify the pre-seizure state or pre-ictal stage, the seizure event or ictal stage, and recovery or the post-ictal stage.
Parvizi and Chafe are developing the device with funding from Stanford’s Bio-X Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program (Bio-X IIP). They are planning to unveil a version of the tool at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center by next year. The tool will consist of a headset that will transmit an EEG of the user’s brain activity to a handheld device, which will convert the data to music.
You can listen to musical piece that the researchers worked on in the embedded video below. In a comment on the YouTube page, Parvizi explains that the owner of the brainwaves recorded in the audio below is sitting quietly in bed and not having a seizure.
Around 0:20, the patient’s seizure starts in the right hemisphere, and the patient is talking and acting normally. Around 1:50, the left hemisphere starts seizing while the right is in a post-ictal state. The patient is mute and confused. At 2:20 both hemispheres are in the post-ictal state.