Mickey Hart and Dr. Adam Gazzaley Make History – Visualizing and Sonifying Brain Activity in Real Time for Live Audience

Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead percussionist, and neurologist Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the University of California San Francisco made history by becoming the first to sonify and visualize brain activity in real time in front of a live audience.  The two did so at the closing session of Life @50+, the AARP National Event & Expo in New Orleans on September 22nd.  

Dr. Gazzaley has extensively studied how the brain handles memory, attention and aging.  Gazzaley awed the crowd midway through the session by strapping an EEG on Hart as he paced, clutching a drum, while images of the rhythms coursing through his brain were displayed on the giant screens throughout the hall.  As the audience looked on, Gazzaley explained what was happening, adjusting to show more or fewer rhythms coursing through Mickey's brain. "This is scary," Mickey joked.

"It all comes down to vibration and the rhythm of things," Hart says of his collaboration with Dr. Gazzaley. "Can you imagine being able to entrain with these rhythms and focus on a certain part of the brain?  To be able to see what part of the brain lights up while you play a certain instrument, a certain rhythm at a certain amplitude.  What does the brain look like before, during, and after an auditory driving experience?" Hart continues, "This is about breaking the rhythm code, our genome project.  Once we know what rhythm truly does, then we'll be able to control it, and use it medicinally for diagnostics, for health reasons.  To be able to reconnect the synapses, the connections that are broken in Parkinson's, Alzheimer's,  that's where we are heading." It's just the beginning, as far as Hart is concerned. "I've been working in my field for many years and so has Adam, it's a handshake between science and art. Life is all about rhythm, and the brain is Rhythm Central."

"There are many simultaneous rhythms in the brain," Gazzaley explained. "The rhythms of your brain are now understood to be a critical factor in perception, decision making, memory, attention and language. Moreover, the rhythms in different brain areas synchronize, allowing them to communicate with each other like kids on a swing. Brain rhythms are also related to many brain diseases, the most obvious being Parkinson's and Tinnitus, where you see a tremor and hear a ringing in your ear. You might not think of depression, ADHD, schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease, but they all reveal changes in the brain's rhythms."

Hart demonstrated the natural power of group rhythmic entrainment by leading a 1,000 person drum circle. Hart and Gazzaley's collaboration reinforced recent studies that show that playing a musical instrument can exercise and strengthen the aging brain.  Their mission is to raise money to launch additional research on the positive interplay between rhythm, music and cognitive health, and once and for all prove what many already know.

Rhythm is a fundamental aspect of the universe at every level, and serves as a critical foundation for life on this planet. As we now understand it, brain function itself is dependent on complex rhythms of activity, which guides interactions between brain regions to generate synchronized neural networks from which our minds emerge. The goal of this collaborative project, Rhythm and the Brain, is to advance our understanding of the role of rhythm in higher-order brain function and also how we can influence brain rhythms through novel interventions (e.g., neuromodulation, rhythm training, video game training, neurofeedback). The ultimate goal is to improve cognition and mood in the healthy and impaired, thus positively impacting the quality of our lives.