Sunday, January 18, 2015

Band-In-A-Brain, Wetware Beta 0.1

This damned cold (yes, it's ongoing) has provided me a fascinating experience. Almost anyone who writes original music or song arrangements to fit the band they have at hand knows the utility of listening to potential passages in his or her "mind's ear," that wonderful facility of the human brain that stores, reproduces and transforms music (or any other sound) in ways that allow one to try things out before writing out parts for the band. I've done that quite a few times back in my performing days... and of course baroque music, like jazz, expects some aspects of both accompaniment and melodic material to be improvised on the spot.

The phenomenon that appeared in my mind this week is something more than that, and I've never experienced it before. My brain (apparently, presumably) composes a piece of music, then renders an arrangement for my ear, specifically, my left ear, to hear, with all the harmonies but with a very limited repertoire of tone colors, as if drawn from the patches available on a very limited synth. The arrangement literally plays itself. If there were a reason to do so, I suppose I could transcribe it out on staff paper, but IMHO the world doesn't really need any new 18th-century music, so I won't. Still, it's fascinating to listen to this "band-in-a-brain"; the most fascinating part is that it surprises me on a regular basis. We've all been told again and again that the human brain is highly parallel, far beyond anything we regularly build in commercial hardware; I suppose this is just another example of that: one part of me composes new music and synthesizes it for another part of me to listen to.

Is there any utility to this? Well, there would be, if I were still a working musician. I could use it to try out continuo (accompaniment) parts while I am away from the keyboard. But you're right... it's pretty useless to me in this stage of retirement. Still, it was quite a surprise to learn what my brain can still do.

There's just one problem. Once it gets going, the band-in-a-brain rarely takes a break...

UPDATE: curiouser and curiouser: the band-in-a-brain is playing 17th-century-style canzonas a la Gabrieli, Dario Castello, etc.; folks songs including Home on the Range; and what sounded a bit like a suite of Christmas carols fully arranged for small string orchestra; then some Forties swing... I AM NOT CRAZY; I really am hearing this! We've all heard rumors of people's receiving signals on their dental bridgework; well, I have plenty of bridgework...


  1. Many of my best code fixes arrive out of 'nowhere' at odd times from the background process that seems to occur in the brain. I have learned to just stop trying to solve some problems and sleep on them. It usually takes less than a week for the answer to appear, but I have to carry a pad and pencil to be sure I don't miss them. I don't need to write the answer down; I need to note what problem is solved.

    1. Bryan, I've experienced that as well. I don't know how it happens, because I've also occasionally thought I've solved a coding problem in my sleep, only to find on awakening that what I had conceived while sleeping is utter garbage when I try to set it down in code. Over the years, the process solved more problems than not; I've learned to pay attention to what I dream about computing matters.

      This (the music I'm hearing) is a bit different, and (24 hours later) I'm increasingly convinced it's coming from outside of me. Tonight I even attempted shielding my head with a metal colander (shades of your cousin Anna!) and found that the "signal" did indeed diminish somewhat. As a kid I played with "crystal sets" of my own making; this reminds me a great deal of the quality of reception (or lack thereof) that I experienced with a galena crystal.

  2. "the world doesn't really need any new 18th-century music" Oh no! but, I do! Seriously though, poetic phrases arrive like that for me and it's the editing work that creates the poem.

    1. Michael, there's no shortage of "new" (old) 18th-century music, as more of it is discovered, transcribed, published, performed and recorded every year. YouTube is your friend; get out your music history book, search for composers you don't know much about yet, and inevitably there are some performances on YouTube. For example, we all know Pachelbel's canon; what else did the man write? The answer is "a large basketful," and by now, a lot of it has been recorded. Give it a try!

    2. Will do! Music history book suggestions? peace M

    3. Michael, for these purposes, the wiki on "Baroque music" is a pretty good starting point. Stick with Middle and Late Baroque composers; the early baroque style is music with something to prove, and not always easy on the ears. The wiki has a time line of Late Baroque composers; check out a few of them... they're not all what I would regard as "late," but that will give you a place to start. German and Italian composers will sound most familiar to you because all of us have heard a lot of JS Bach and GF Handel. But do not neglect the French...

  3. How bizarre --- but why not transcribe all this music? It could turn out to be wildly successful . .. Here's wishing you a quick recovery and as little time as possible wearing aluminun foil cones as hats!

    1. c, my friend George researched the over-the-counter cough med I've been taking and found that one of its possible side-effects is "hallucinations." I read the drug info sheet and there it is; it doesn't say "auditory," but maybe that's what I'm getting. I skipped a dose last night... the cough has diminished considerably... and the band-in-a-brain is considerably fainter this morning. We'll see.

      BTW, I prefer metal colanders. I learned the trick from one of Bryan's cousins. :-)

    2. As to transcribing the music, do you realize what a PITA it is to write out music? Real composers hire students as copyists to produce photo-ready scores and parts from the composers' inscrutable originals. Yes, there is score prep s/w, but I don't own any, nor have I ascended the steep learning curve to use any.

  4. yes you are too crazy!

    I still get auditory hallucinations, sometimes music (always original!), more often talk radio (more like baseball games, not, thank goodness, rush Limbaugh), but not as much as I used to. two things have changed: I've quit all cold/sinus medicines, and I got all my mercury fillings replaced. since both of these happened at about the same time, I can't tell which, if either, contributed to the change. in your case, since it's mostly obscure music, I'd guess you're not picking up radio waves via your dental work. ;)

    ps, I didn't get the old fillings replaced because I was worried about the mercury, but because they were falling out and I was vain enough (and well-paid enough at the time) to go for the white fillings.

    1. Hi Mad! Your post went to "Awaiting moderation" apparently because of your posting as Anonymous. (Sometimes Blogger does that for you, damn it...) Long ago, that was my compromise: posts marked Anonymous were permitted but moderated. Sorry about that.

      Yes, I have a lot of old fillings. Maybe it's time, now that I have some dental insurance in my Medicare supplement plan. Mercury? Shudder! I hope I don't still have those things in my mouth!



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