David Rosenboom - Invisible Gold


Portable Gold and Philosophers' Stones • On Being Invisible

Classics of live electronic music involving extended musical interface with the human nervous system.


"The creating of spontaneous simultaneity, the allowing for meaningful synchronicity, as a com­mon recognition function for two or more living aggregates or non-entropic entities, is a basic drive of soul." When I wrote this in my 1975 book, Biofeedback and the Arts. Results of Early Experiments, it was a kind of mystical cyberneticist's way of developing a definition of life. Today, it preserves some of the spirit with which, over many years, I have investigated the workings of the human brain by inventing musical circumstances in which the brain's electrical activity was inte­grated into the interactive dynamics of self-organizing, electronic music systems. The release of this CD preserves some important examples from this exploration.

In part, this work is about transforming invisible, inner attainments into visible miracles. It is about submerging one's self into natural processes in order to learn the relationships between resonance and the idea of initiating action, how willful creation relates to spontaneous simultane­ity and being an active part of something ongoing, which is larger than ourselves. The journey has produced a wealth of observations and inferences about the brain and its relationship to music, musical mind, the organization of perception, the synthesis of memory, performance, composition and musical manifestations of psyche.

This music is also about bringing musical symbols to bear on a vision, a view of the connected­ness and morphology of the universe. Central to this are ideas about resonance, evolution, self-organization, and emergent processes. The idea of resonance is a particularly potent theme in my music. It is about creating something from nothing and the emergence of perceivable substance from the tiniest reinforcements in patterns of energy flow. These may be mere wisps of ineffable quantum resonance hinting at the existence of ponderable matter, the steady eons of order pro­ducing evolving universes, brain/body holograms enfolding memories, or spirit links uniting souls. They all emerge from waves of resonance on both ethereal and physical planes. The very possibility of enduring memory, the accumulation of which helps to produce our sense of self, is made manifest through resonant processes. Through practice, our awareness of these enduring resonances, the foundation of what we perceive as solid, can become more immediate and natural.

Much of the work was carried out with the aid of advanced technology. It enabled me to directly monitor electrical activities manifesting inside the brain, to extract detailed features of this activity with the potential to illuminate my musical investigations, and to use the results to grow musical forms with electronic instrumentation. It also enabled me to explore new territories for personal and public, musical performance, and to experience the magical "dissolution of a concept into an image," through those wonderful "moments when ideas dissolve into music," (Huizinga, J. The Autumn of the Middle Ages).

Portable Gold and Philosophers'Stones (Music from Brains in Fours) (1972) In reading about mantric symbols, I came across the idea of "The Philosopher's Stone," (Govinda, lama A. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism), an enduring, invisible, mental symbol that is about the prima materia, the original substance, the ultimate principle of the universe. It is said that by returning from the qualities of sensation and thought which we perceive through differentiation and specialization to the undifferentiated purity of the prima materia, we may learn the truth about cre­ative power and the fundamental mutability of all phenomena. The symbol of Portable Gold is my way of emphasizing the timelessness and spacelessness of this idea, which we can carry with us anywhere. To manifest these symbols in music, this piece makes use of resonant coincidences detected among the physical brainwaves of up to four performers. Here, resonance links the spiri­tual, the exploration of the human soul, and the physical, the exploration of matter, the unification of which is said to lead to the Elixir of Life. This elixir is described as achieving natural power over the elements.

On die music's physical plane, the metaphor of resonance manifests on many levels. First, all the electronic sounds are controlled by the brainwaves of the four biofeedback musicians. The music progresses as these brainwaves move in and out of synchrony widi each odier, and dieir coher­ence over time fluctuates. The musicians are listening to dieir parts and attempting to achieve the internal states required to gain facility in influencing diese signals. Coherence may be thought of as the degree of stability in the patterns of relatively smooth waveforms. Several frequency bands in the brainwaves are monitored and various correlation techniques used to detect this synchrony and temporal coherence. As these values change, the range of control over sound given to each performer's brain is increased or decreased. When that range is increased, we hear more florid, active, and detailed movement in the musical lines of the corresponding parts, like trills, orna­ments, and wider pitch excursions.

The sounds are produced with a bank of resonant filters, known as a Holophone. The inputs to die Holophone consist of four-note chords made of pulse waves. The chords are produced by fre­quency dividers, which also respond to die analysis of brainwaves—in some versions galvanic skin response and body temperature are also monitored. Thus, chords derived from the sub-har­monic or undertone series of a fixed pitch produce the source sounds for the Holophone, which produces its music from die combined harmonic series of all the notes in the chord. As the per­formers produce more and more coherent brainwaves, the voices in the chord tend to move lower and lower. Subde internal processes are required for the performers to enjoy the music, but not allow this enjoyment to disrupt the state of consciousness required to maintain die coher­ent brainwaves. Zen-like meditative disciplines emphasizing calm alertness are particularly effective.

The music begins with a drone. Slowly, as the brains, minds, and bodies relax and settle, coherent waves begin to emerge, the resonators of the Holophone begin to move, and musical shapes fol­low. As this process continues, the pitch range inscribed by these shapes increases, and the music becomes more active. About three-quarters of die way through, die descending, pulse-wave chords converge to a unison tone, resolving on a low-pitched tonic. Grand sweeps and cascades rising through harmonic space ensue from this climax. Ironically, the excitement so generated carries widi it the inevitable cost of such ebullience, the brainwaves become more desynchronized and their range of control over the sound decreases. As a result, die chords move into more quizzical, diough poignant, harmonies, and finally, the tones setde onto an acceptable, concluding chord. The music ends gently and thoughtfully.

Portable Gold... Technology and Recording Credits

The pulse wave chords were produced by Neurona Company Omnivoila modules, which I designed in 1968 and manufactured and distributed with my friend William Rouner in New York in 1969. The Holophone was constructed from filters made by ARP Instruments in Newton, MA. The analysis equipment included brainwave amplifiers, a Correlation Function Computer, and a Fourier Analyzer by Princeton Applied Research, and filters by Krohn Hite. I also designed and built additional interface electronics, envelope followers, analog gates, and threshold detectors.

This version of Portable Gold... began with a source tape from a performance at the International Carnival of Experimental Sound held at The Roundhouse in London, England in 1972. The per­formers were from the group Biome, including Pat Strange, Alan Strange, Marilyn McCarty, and Frank McCarty. The tape was subsequently re-mastered at die York University Electronic Media Studios in Toronto, with the assistance of Robert Richards, for die record Brainwave Music— David Rosenboom, released by the Aesthtic Research Centre of Canada, in Maple, Ontario, in 1974, #ST1002. For this CD, the analog recording was converted to digital and reprocessed in die composer's studio at the California Institute of the Arts in order to enhance the stereo image and the distinctiveness of the four individual parts.

On Being Invisible (1976-77)

On Being Invisible is a self-organizing, dynamical system, rather than a fixed, musical composi­tion. The tide refers to the role of an individual within an evolving, dynamical environment, who makes decisions concerning when and how to be a conscious initiator of action and when simply to allow his individual, internal dynamics to co-evolve within the macroscopic dynamics of the sys­tem as a whole. A potpourri of brainwave analysis techniques is used to track shifts of attention and changes in the state of consciousness of a solo performer that are concurrent with specifically identified musical events. The results are used in a feedback structure to influence the evolution of an emerging musical form, which will be unique in each performance. Several versions of On Being Invisible have been created, including a recent, self-organizing, multi-media opera, in which the detection and analysis of event related potentials in die brains of two performers directs an evolving, on-stage scenario. This system has been described as an attention dependent sonic environment.

Each version of On Being Invisible has included the following major components implemented in
software or hardware: (!) a musical structure-generating mechanism coupled to a sound syn­
thesis system;
(2) a model of musical perception that detects and makes predictions about the
perceptual effects of various phenomena in an unfolding musical structure; (3) a perceiving,

/em>interacting entity (human performer); (4) an input analysis system for detecting and analyzing bioelectromagnetic and other input signals; and (5) a structure-controlling mechanism that directs (1) and updates (2) in response to corresponding information from (4) and (2). In short, the system generates musical changes, predicts the significance with which they may be perceived, and tests for brain signals that either confirm or disconfirm these predictions. If the predictions are confirmed, the kinds of changes associated with the predictions will be reinforced in tlie music. If they are disconfirmed, the music will be allowed to evolve into new territory. The performer may attempt to direct changes by controlling his own attention shifts—something requiring great discipline—or simply allow his natural tendencies in listening to manifest their „ effects on the evolving music.