Weird Science

We'll Soon Be Playing Instruments With Our Minds

Comments (0)


Tue, Sep 11, 2012 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge SASH POPOVIC
  • Sash Popovic
By Dave Good

The future of music, says Los Angeles inventor Vince De Franco, will be hands-free. Instead of plugging in and tuning up in the conventional sense, musicians will engage various instruments with their minds. They will think the music.

"The research that's going on in terms of reading brain waves and eavesdropping on mind processes," De Franco tells us, "is moving from the medical realm into the realm of self-expression."

According to the journal Music and Medicine, experimentation with music using computer-driven systems interacting with the user's brain is already happening in the United Kingdom, primarily as a therapeutic tool for people with severe physical disabilities. Elsewhere, similar interfaces picking up on the infinitesimal electrical impulses generated by one's neurons are being used to drive cars, control prosthetic arms and operate kids' games.

"There's a Star Wars toy that works [if one] concentrates in a certain way while wearing a headband," De Franco says. Jedi mind tricks? No. "The energy is sent to a little fan that causes a ball to rise inside a tube. It costs about 75 bucks. I've tried it. It's pretty cool."

De Franco, 43, may be the guy who will eventually bring hands-free musicianship to the masses. He has a bachelor's degree in physics from Georgetown and has worked for 20 years in audio and technical engineering and R&D, the past 10 at his Synesthesia Corporation, a small company based in Laurel Canyon.

In 1994 he developed the first Dimension Beam, a laser-powered interface that senses movement and translates it to sound. (Roland Synthesizers sells it as the D-Beam.) A few years later, Tool drummer Danny Carey wanted an electronic drum skin with ungodly fast triggers and lots of computer memory. And so De Franco, who has toured as Tool's synthesizer player, invented a membrane switch. In 2006 the Mandala, the world's first smart drumhead, was born.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • The 10 Best Rock 'n' Roll Pinball Machines

    I am a devoted video-game fan and a constant cheerleader for them to be considered art, but honestly I would give up most of the compelling stories and high-definition graphics in the world for the simple pinball machines. They're crafted and mechanical, and when done with a loving hand can...
  • Fanatics! Rock the Omar

    RADIO BROADCAST #279 08–03–14 Fanatics! Good radio is what it’s all about on this show and tonight, we again deliver the goods. You will notice the slightest of concepts here as we rock Omar Souleyman on both hours. He will be in LA on Sunday night. I will be interviewing...
  • Party Picks of the Week: Jarvis Cocker Alert!

    Summer fun is burning hot about now with a slew of big bashes, many of them marking the not-so-timid Leo birthday contingent. Here, the best of the batch, kicking off what is sure to be an action-packed August. Party with ninjas: Studio 69’s Pirates vs. Ninjas dance and dress-up affair is always...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets