Vince DeFranco: How Long Before People Make Music With Their Minds?

Making music is easy. At its most basic, music is no more than a person causing sound waves to vibrate in a rhythmic fashion. Of course, if you want to make something more complex than "hand hits thing at precise intervals," then it can be argued that making music is hard. It's one thing to think of a melody, but another thing entirely to produce it.

This may not always be the case. As technology gets more powerful, so will our ability to make music. And if you ask Vince DeFranco, we may only be a few years away from being able to make music with our minds.

DeFranco is a musician, inventor and all-around big thinker. Best known in music circles for the creation of the Roland D-Beam and the Mandala Drum, DeFranco thinks these devices may be just the tip of the technological iceberg.

Curious about what technology might mean for music and how we create it, Rocks Off decided to pick DeFranco's brain to get his thoughts on some of these emerging technologies and how people might respond to them.

Rocks Off: If you tell the average person that they're a few decades away from making music with their thoughts they'd respond, "That's impossible!" What do you tell them in response?

Vince DeFranco: There are already successful medical research experiments underway which translate brain activity directly into words and control signals that move mechanical devices. Places such as UC-Berkeley and the University of Utah and Northwestern are processing signals from the brain and telling people what words they are imagining or helping them operate robotics.

Because developments like those can lead to methods of musical expression, I believe they will. Someday soon if you can think of a tone, it will be directly synthesizable.

RO: The technology exists now that allows me to emulate the sound of my favorite musicians. Will the day come that technology allows me to emulate their physical playing style?

VD: I can't think of any reason why someday the human body wouldn't be able to be programmed to exactly perform any series of movements that are within its limits of motion. Human nerve impulses will be stimulated by electronic circuitry and programs will run us, if we choose to be run.

Of course, someone could run a Danny Carey drumming routine on themselves if they desire, but technologically stimulating the core inspiration that got Danny Carey playing the way he does in the first place may be where technology comes up short. A contemporary example would be a cover-band drummer that can technically emulate great drummers because he has spent so much time developing muscle memory of their techniques through repetitive motion, but who has no original technique of his own.

RO: So what would you say to musical purists who might claim the use of these technologies is "cheating"?

VD: That relative sort of view will continue no matter what the current level of technology is. There was also a day when a piano was considered new technology, and hey, if you just played the white keys or just the black keys you'd always be in key.

Any tool could be used to "cheat" if the cheating type were to operate it. But a piano certainly is something to be excited about from a musician's point of view and I would hope that new musical technologies continue to be embraced in a similar manner.

RO: What do you see as the greatest benefit of these emerging technologies?

VD: The greatest benefit will be the release of years of untapped expression pent up within people. Inhibitions and boundaries will drop partly because of new technologies. Big things will be unlocked in a lot of minds that hadn't previously been able to fight through themselves.

There will be a new freedom of expression, because more creative thoughts will be translated and expressed from deep within more peoples' psyches thanks to new technologies.

RO: What would your advice be for anyone interested in getting involved with the technical side of music and designing their own future instruments?

VD: Absorb what you can about what you love. Develop as much understanding of the basic physical components which make up everything around you. Musical instruments are at the intersection of art and engineering, with physics and abstraction defining a relationship between them and humans.

Try to maintain a balance between the hemispheres of your brain, so you don't accidentally filter out an experience which may inspire you to create something not yet imagined.

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