Pink Floyd's iconic "Another Brick In The Wall" is at the center of an amazing scientific breakthrough that's straight out of science fiction.
Professor Stephen Hawking was one of the brightest minds of the 20th century, and twice collaborated with rock legends Pink Floyd. Hawking was paralyzed and wheelchair-bound and could only speak in a robotic voice with a computer-assisted device.
Now, Pink Floyd, specifically their 1979 hit "Another Brick In The Wall," from The Wall may hold the key to the medical breakthrough that would’ve allowed Hawking to speak in a more natural voice, perhaps even his own voice.
Neuroscientists at UC Berkley have reconstructed "Another Brick In The Wall" from the brainwaves of people listening to the song.
The reconstruction is admittedly fuzzy and garbled. In fact, it sounds like some, but as a proof of concept, this is an amazing achievement. These neuroscientists have basically built a mind-reading machine, and it’s hearing and producing music, a very Pink Floyd-ian concept.
It’s so fuzzy that at first, it’s very very difficult to associate the eerie distorted noise with the extremely familiar song. It’s there though; once you hear the rhythm, you can’t unhear it. What’s more, the rhythm that you hear is the rhythm of the vocals.
From the 22-second clip posted by the Guardian, the line “all in all it’s just another brick in the wall” can clearly be deciphered. It took a few tries, but the first time I heard it, the hairs on the back of my head stood up.
“It sounds a bit like they’re speaking underwater…” remarked researcher Robert Knight.
As well as being a PInk Floyd-ian concept, I would say it’s also a Pink Floyd-ian sound. It sounds to me like the sort of out-of-this-world sound effect that Pink Floyd would’ve used or texture.
How Pink Floyd Will Help Us Keep Talking...
So, how would this have helped Stephen Hawking (apart from being a very cool science thing that I am sure he would’ve appreciated?) Well, it’s been over a decade since they made a similar breakthrough, reconstructing words from brainwaves.
That could potentially help those who, for whatever reason, could not speak. However, the results were robotic, no better than Hawking’s computer-assisted speech device. Meanwhile, music is, by its very nature, emotional.
The ability to convey emotion is something that music and naturalistic speech have in common, and they both convey emotion in much the same way. The D minor chord is universally regarded as a sad sound, so imagine a person speaking in a D minor chord progression, they’d sound sad.
In fact, there’s a theory that music evolved as a byproduct of language. Simply put, a system that can reconstruct music with the emotion it carries could also reconstruct speech with the emotion it carries.
So why "Another Brick In The Wall"? Lead researcher Ludovic Bellier told Scientific American, “The scientific reason, which we mention in the paper, is that the song is very layered. It brings in complex chords, different instruments, and diverse rhythms that make it interesting to analyze.” He then added, “The less scientific reason might be that we just really like Pink Floyd.”
Stephen Hawking first appeared on Pink Floyd’s track "Keep Talking" in 1994, a song about the importance of communication.
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