Bonnie Eisenman bio photo

Bonnie Eisenman

Software engineer, author, knitter, Esperantist. Member of NYC Resistor and author of Learning React Native.

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I’ve already posted about my Illumaphone – here’s the project it was built for! For our final project in my electronic music class (taught by Jeff Snyder), we were basically given free rein to do whatever we wanted. My friend Harvest and I chose to build two ‘instruments’ and perform toether. As luck would have it, we had recently won a NeuroSky Mindwave headset in a hackathon (thanks, Twitchy), so Harvest decided to try and sonify his brainwaves.


The NeuroSky came with a toy helicopter you were supposedly able to control with your mind. Turns out the helicopter didn’t work so well, but the NeuroSky was really fun to play with. Sold as a sub-$100 EEG headset, the NeuroSky website trumpets its educational uses. I’m not sure if I would expect magical brain-training from it, as the “attention” ratings and so on it broadcasts don’t seem very reliable. However, Harvest was able to actually get it to respond to his attempts at meditation. It works by resting aganist both your forehead and clipping to your ear. As we discovered, this means that it’s also sensitive to things like grinning widely or raising your eyebrows.

The sonification Harvest eventually settled on focused on algorithmically generated musical patterns, guided by the brainwave data. When his “meditation” value spikes (as interpreted by the NeuroSky), the music fades out into a raw sonification of the data streaming from the headset. Meanwhile, I’m playing my Illumaphone. Both instruments utilize ChucK, a musical programming language.

Here’s a compilation video of the final projects from the class, featuring a pretty good shot of Harvest and me up first.

And here’s our final performance, in full:

We had a good time. Thanks to Jeff for running an awesome class; now I have to figure out what projects to tackle next…