This Is Your Brain on Music! Offers Interactive Installations at UC San Diego

By Tiffany Fox

Mainly Mozart

San Diego, Calif., Sept. 14, 2015 — The Qualcomm Institute, an interdisciplinary research unit known for its work at the intersection of technology and culture, will host an interactive exhibition, “This Is Your Brain on Music! Expo,” on Saturday and Sunday, September 26-27, in its headquarters building on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. All of the events are ticketed.

The Expo will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, and the institute will also host lectures and other activities of the larger “Mozart & the Mind” festival, co-produced this year by the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination (which is also located in the Qualcomm Institute). The Clarke Center’s lead sponsor ViaSat has also signed on to be a major sponsor of the “festival of music and science, research and artistic expression.” The festival integrates cutting-edge scientific discourse with live musical performances and audiovisual demonstrations.

The Expo itself will give visitors an opportunity to learn first-hand how music affects the brain, a theme that echoes throughout the festival and an academic colloquium on Friday, Sept. 25, also hosted by the Qualcomm Institute. The third UC Music Experience Research Community Initiative (MERCI) Symposium (2-5 p.m.) will focus on “Evolving Music Research on Music and Health and Learning.” Speakers include panelists from UC Merced, UCSF, UC Davis, UCLA and four speakers from UC San Diego (Scott Makeig, John Iversen, Sarah Creel, and Gert Lanckriet, whose Computer Audition Lab is located in the Qualcomm Institute).

The festival, “Mozart & the Mind,” kicks off on Friday evening (6-9 p.m.) with a keynote presentation by neurobiologist Dr. Antonio Damasio on “Creativity and the Human Brain.” The keynote takes place in the auditorium of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla. Following Damasio’s talk, prodigy researcher Dr. Joanne Ruthsatz will introduce 12-year-old piano prodigy Gavin George, who will play a program of Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Chopin.

This Is Your Brain on Music!
The Expo’s installations are open Saturday and Sunday, and they will showcase many of the Qualcomm Institute’s high-tech visualization and virtual reality environments. Clarke Center Director Sheldon Brown takes over the gallery@calit2 on the first floor of Atkinson Hall to stage an interactive exhibition called “Assembly.” Visitors put on wearable neurotechnology to guide the “creative evolution” of a rich audiovisual ecosystem of sounds, images and objects in Brown’s 3D world of artificial life. Brown’s partner on the project is Syntrogi Labs, led by computational neuroscientist Tim Mullen (who is also the founder and creative director of “Mozart & the Mind”).

Other interactive installations on display in and around Atkinson Hall for the This Is Your Brain on Music! Expo include

  • Make Your Own Mozart” by Ryan Welsh, Grady Kessler and Shahrokh Yadegari. The piece lets visitors play Mozart’s “composition game” to collaborate on composing a waltz by detecting patterns displayed on the 66-megapixel Vroom display wall in the Calit2 Theater. Yadegari is the director of the Qualcomm Institute performance series, the Initiative for Digital Exploration of Arts and Sciences (IDEAS). Ph.D. students Welsh and Kestler are separately set to perform new works in the 2015 IDEAS season, with Welsh’s “StilHouette” scheduled for January, and Kestler’s “Head Over Heels” due in  March.
  •  “Emotionscape” by CSE undergraduate Michelle Wu was developed during a Pacific Rim Experiences for Undergraduates (PRIME) internship this summer at Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) in Osaka. Her mentors and co-developers of the installation are Osaka University professor Shinji Shimojo and UC San Diego mentor, QI research scientist Jurgen Schulze. Based on a person’s fluctuating brain activity as detected by an EEG sensor (developed at NICT), the installation constructs a dynamic and artistic interpretation of the visitor’s emotional state. “Emotionscape” immerses visitors in the StarCAVE’s 360-degree environment, where the user’s mood is artistically represented back to them in a nonverbal manner. The ultimate goal of the research project is to see whether placing an individual in an environment constructed from his or her own emotions might have a therapeutic effect, for instance, to cheer up someone who is depressed.
  • Cocktail Part A” is an interactive, biosensor-based installation that explores the fluid dynamics of the cocktail party. According to artists Richard Warp and Robert Gibboni, “the ephemera of sparkling conversation are reduced to an immersive musical fabric, and the sensory dynamics of the participants are amplified for observers to follow as participants 'work their magic' through the space.”
  • Outdoor installations during the Expo will include “Interactive Gamelan,” a performance by Balinese gamelan virtuoso I Putu Hiranmayena and ethnomusicologist Alex Khalil, who will explore whether early musical rhythm training can improve brain function.
  • The Creative Multiverse” offers an immersive and interactive “virtual reality and brainwave experience” to help visitors discover their inner prodigy.

Mozart & the Mind
On Saturday and Sunday, daytime talks and performances (11 a.m.-5 p.m.) of the Festival will run in parallel with the Expo installations, all in Atkinson Hall. The primary theme of the festival is “Prodigy, Pedagogy and the Brain” (11 a.m.-5 p.m.). Joanne Ruthsatz will talk about the link between autism and extraordinary talent, paired with another performance by prodigy Gavin George. Concetta Tomaino will address how music can change the trajectory of mental health, and her talk will be followed by a recital by another piano prodigy, Ray Ushikubo. Then Nina Kraus will discuss the role that early music training can have in improving social and cognitive function – and bridging the poverty gap. Her talk will be followed by a recital with Anton Nel, who began his four decades as a concert pianist at the age of 12.

Anton Nell will again take the stage on Saturday evening (6:30-8:45 p.m.) in the TSRI Auditorium, to play two of Mozart’s most cutting-edge 18th century works. He will be followed by Brazilian composer Eduardo Reck Miranda and his work “Activating Memory,” a composition for four neural interfaces and the Hausmann String Quartet, featuring neurotechnology that can enable motor-impaired patients to make music.

Sunday’s program in Atkinson Hall includes Balinese musicians who play the gamelan as Dr. Alexander Khalil explores how non-western cultures view prodigy. Dr. Eduardo Reck Miranda returns to explore “computer-aided creativity with music technology,” and Miranda will play “Mozart Reloaded,” for which Mozart piano sonatas were algorithmically processed into new compositions with fragments resembling Bach, Beethoven and others. Finally, UC San Diego music professor Shlomo Dubnov addresses two questions: Can a computer have a mind of its own? And, can a computer analyze human works and come up with its own new and unexpected ideas? Dubnov will introduce an improvised performance by jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer and a computer.

Media Contacts

Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

Related Links

UC MERCI Symposium  
Mozart & the Mind   
This Is Your Brain on Music! Expo