It started with 8 strangers. We monitored and recorded their brainwaves while they were subjected to various stimuli. Five different frequency ranges (alpha, beta, delta, gamma, and theta) for each of our participants.
The Symphony itself was conceived like a jazz chart where the structure of the overall tune is defined and followed, but the individual performances aren’t known until they happen, they’re improvised in the moment. We provided the rhythm section and the song flow, but the individual melody points are taken from our participants’ brainwaves as a form of improvisational performance.
The Symphony structure was designed to be an overture for season one of Sense8. The rises and falls, the crescendos, the dynamics and the chord changes are all in place to mirror the action of the series, in three sections.
The first section tells the story of the chaotic beginning to the series where the sensates are experiencing a transition from their old selves, and begin to learn that something is different about them. It builds to our first crescendo as the chaos and noise of the world come to a head.
The second section begins at the end of the crescendo. The characters finally feel some clarity and the power of their new-found ability begins to become clear. This section is a series of duets where, just like the characters in the show, each of our participants' themes are paired off and they begin play with another and get to know each other.
The final section again follows the action of the show and ramps up into a climax with a number of the sensates working together to a greater end game than any one of them could accomplish alone.
We did this using some off-the-shelf EEG sensors that are designed to do just this type of monitoring. They also do some nice things like intelligently filter out background noise that would cause problems for classical brainwave monitors, and provide a standard, quantifiable data format to represent the brainwaves.
We built a custom sensory experience for our participants, designed to stimulate different parts of the brain. We used a mixture of light, sound, scent and graphics that changed every 10 seconds and recorded their brain activity during each. We also used a SubPac S2 immersive audio system to add low frequency tactile vibrations to the experience. The idea here wasn’t to force the brainwaves into a specific pattern, but to record the unique combination of waves produced by each participant as they went through the same experience.
After the experience we had sets of brainwaves for each participant. We used a parametric sequencer and arpeggiator to process that brainwave data into musical rhythms and notes.
The sequencer takes participants alpha, delta and theta brainwave forms and combines them in different ways to create low frequency oscillators for each participant. Then it applies a high-pass filter to find the peaks of the waves. Each time there is a peak in the brainwave, the sequencer knows it’s time to trigger a note.
Similarly, we used beta and gamma waves, tracing up and down a musical staff to determine which note to play, when the rhythm dictates.
After all 8 participants went through the experience we rendered their brainwaves into series of musical phrases and extracted a unique theme to represent each participant varying from 1 to 4 bars in length. Then we used each theme throughout the track to represent our cluster and how they interact within each section of the symphony.