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Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick in the Wall' helps researchers study the brain

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Researchers in California have been studying which parts of the brain are responsible for processing music. So they played this song to a group of patients with electrodes implanted in their brains.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL, PT. 1")

PINK FLOYD: (Singing) Daddy's flown across the ocean...

DANIEL LEVITIN: They probably chose Pink Floyd because they're at UC Berkeley.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL, PT. 1")

PINK FLOYD: (Singing) ...Leaving just a memory.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Daniel Levitin was not involved in this research, but he's a neuroscientist who's been studying music in the brain for 30 years. He says the scientists, led by UC Berkeley professor Robert Knight, were able to reconstruct "Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 1" by recording a patient's neural activity.

LEVITIN: There are populations of neurons that fire in synchrony with the tempo of music. And then there are other neurons that are trying to pick up the pitch. One of the neurons will fire to one of the pitches, another neuron will fire to another, and then we can play back that firing pattern.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEURONS FIRING)

LEVITIN: And as a final demonstration, they take this computerized reconstruction of the neural outputs, and they play them through a loudspeaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: (As Pink Floyd, singing) All in all, it was just a brick in the wall.

LEVITIN: Now, these are early days, but they captured enough of it that the song is recognizable by the average listener.

MARTIN: Levitin hopes this research can lead to neuroprosthetics that would help a wide range of people.

LEVITIN: We're talking about people with strokes, people who were born deaf and rely on cochlear implants - their research could allow a paralyzed musician or a voiceless musician to create music with their thoughts.

MARTIN: Which means imagined music could become real and heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF PINK FLOYD SONG, "ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL, PT. 1") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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