Scientists reconstruct Pink Floyd song using brain recordings.

Scientists reconstruct Pink Floyd song using brain recordings.

Unlocking the Power of Music: Reproducing Song from Brain Waves


“All in all, it was just a brick in the wall.”

The famous lyrics from Pink Floyd’s song, “Another Brick in the Wall” have been transformed into reality, emerging from the muddy yet musical sound of reconstituted brainwaves. In a groundbreaking study published in the journal PLOS Biology, researchers successfully reconstructed a recognizable song solely from brain recordings for the first time ever. This innovative research brings hope for the development of more natural speech in brain-machine interfaces, benefiting individuals who are “locked in” by paralysis and unable to communicate verbally.

Language, though composed of words, possesses a musicality that allows for the expression of meaning and emotions. Dr. Robert Knight, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, explains that humans incorporate musical concepts such as intonation and rhythm to add depth and richness to their speech. Music, being universal and predating language, presents an opportunity to create a more human-like interface for communication.

To achieve this, the research team implanted electrodes on the brains of 29 epilepsy patients. These electrodes captured the electrical activity of brain regions responsible for processing musical attributes like tone, rhythm, harmony, and words. The patients listened to a three-minute clip from the song “Another Brick in the Wall.” Subsequently, the recorded brainwaves were fed into a computer programmed to analyze the data.

Over time, the algorithm became sophisticated enough to decode the brain activity and reproduce a rendition of the Pink Floyd song as heard by the patients years ago. This study represents a substantial step forward in understanding the neuroanatomy of music perception, according to Dr. Alexander Pantelyat, a movement disorders neurologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine.

While the findings show promise, there are still limitations to overcome. Dr. Ludovic Bellier, the lead researcher and a postdoctoral fellow with the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, explains that reproducing comprehensive speech using electroencephalogram (EEG) readings from the scalp is not currently possible with existing technology. Invasive electrode implants, requiring surgery, are necessary for capturing the high-frequency brain activity that is essential for quality speech reproduction.

Furthermore, improving the quality of signal detection in brain-computer interfaces is crucial. Better electrodes need to be developed, addressing factors such as electrode spacing. Current electrodes are 5 millimeters apart, and narrower spacing, around 1.5 millimeters, would provide superior signals. Increasing electrode density would allow for a more extensive dataset, benefiting machine learning approaches and enhancing the quality of reproduced speech.

Despite these challenges, the research is paving the way for further exploration. Dr. Knight’s team obtained a grant to study patients with Broca’s aphasia, a condition that hinders speech production but allows singing. The findings from this study may uncover insights into why individuals with such injuries can sing what they cannot express verbally.

The ability to recreate a song from brainwaves holds promise not only for those with locked-in syndrome but also for individuals affected by neurological conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or traumatic brain injury. Understanding the neuroanatomy of music perception and its connection to speech opens doors to more profound advancements in brain-machine interfaces, ultimately enhancing the quality of life for those with communication challenges.