On 18 – 19th March AXNS Collective, in partnership with Imperial College London and Music Hackspace, hosted a two-day LSD brain wave and soundart hackathon bringing together sound artists and neuroscientists.
In a landmark study in 2014, Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, gave LSD to healthy volunteers while scanning their brains. They found that LSD has the potential to break through rigid thought patterns, suggestingt hat brain circuits that are overactive and reinforced in depression could be loosened under the drug. But there was much more to discover as Dr. Carhart-Harris explained: “The output of our brain imaging work is often a static image and really that’s not conveying the reality of how psychoactive drugs are changing the brain asbiological systems aren’t static, they are characteristically dynamic.”
Dr. Carhart-Harris’ statement provided the motivation for AXNS to organise a participatory event to take the brain wave data of this study outside of the lab. The essence of such brain wave data can be understood as a mixture of dynamic sine waves changing over time. AXNS wanted to draw on the expertise of those in another discipline who work with sine waves in a very different context: sound artists.
For the hackathon, AXNS invited 5 sound artists from all over the world to work along side 10 neuroscientists and data analysts, to explore the brain waves in novel ways and to create mind altering soundscapes from extracted features of the psychedelic brain data. Each sound artist was grouped with two “brain hackers”, and each group received the same brain data as a starting point.
Over the course of the hackathon, Dr. Carhart-Harris and his team gave talks about their latest research on psychedelic drugs and the event concluded with a concert of the final sound pieces and performances. This project encouraged scientists to experiment with innovative and novel analysis techniques with the aim to expand the way scientists usually look at brain wave data.
This pioneering project provided the opportunity to think outside of the box about how we can capture someone’s subjective, dynamic and potentially healing mind-altering psychedelic journey.
The pieces that were made during the hackathon can be downloaded here:
In 2012, Imperial College London were awarded a research grant from the UK government’s Medical Research Council (MRC) to set-up a clinical trial for scientific research with psychedelic drugs, focusing on investigating the safety and efficacy of psilocybin (the chemical compound found in Magic Mushrooms) as a treatment option for -resistant depression.
The ongoing research at Imperial College, using cutting-edge brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) has shown the potential of psychedelics to break through rigid thought patterns which suggest that brain circuits that are overactive and reinforced in depression, could be loosened under psilocybin. Recent pilot studies in the US have suggested that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy may be effective for treating end-of-life anxiety. Other research teams have been looking at the potential of psilocybin to treat alcohol and tobacco dependence.
Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris is Head of Psychedelic Research in the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London. He studies the brain effects of LSD, psilocybin and MDMA using multi-modal neuroimaging techniques. Most recently he has completed the first phase of a clinical trial looking at the potential of psilocybin to treat treatment-resistant depression. He holds a MA in Psychoanalysis from Brunel University and a PhD in Psychopharmacology from University of Bristol.
Music Hackspace is a platform and space bringing together people passionate about music, art, innovation and technology. We organise weekly open events featuring new content in artist presentations, demos, workshops, premieres and events engaging with sound, music, art, music technology, new instruments, computer music, electronics and all kinds of noisy ideas.
Aimed to catalyse the development of music technology projects and sound art practices in a dynamic and friendly atmosphere, this programme brings together an existing-growing community and audience passionate about music, art, innovation and technology. MHS’s aim is to spread knowledge, foster innovation and create unique opportunities by gathering skilled professionals, hobbyists and curious minded people together, facilitating exchanges between skills and disciplines, from technology development to sound art installations and music production.
Music Hackspace is a Somerset House Studios Resident and is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.