Duet for cello and ... brain?

Musician calls upon brainpower to accompany herself

January 11, 2013

Rebecca Kruth

Download Story
(Photo courtesy of David Dehann)
Cellist Katinka Kleijn wearing the EPOC Neuroheadset that will pick up her brainwaves while she performs.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Katinka Kleijn is used to playing with a stage full of musicians.

At the Chicago Cultural Center this weekend, she’ll see what it’s like to perform a duet with her own brain.

While performing, Kleijn will wear an EPOC Neuroheadset. This device, commonly used by gamers, has 14 sensors which attach to the scalp and detect electric signals sent by the brain.

During the performance, a computer screen will show Kleijn a series of words such as “violence” or “passion.” Her task is to think of the word, and then interpret the feeling it brings on her cello.  

While Kleijn plays, she'll use her brainpower to manipulate a soundtrack – a recording of the sound of her and the composers' brainwaves – and speed it up, slow it down or change it in emotional tenor. That will be her accompaniment.   

Basically, the piece is at the mercy of Kleijn’s own brain.

“I actually don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, so it’s a little bit of an experiment,” Kleijn said.  “It’s something I think that’s good to go to with an open mind, and nobody will know really what it’s going to be like until it has happened.”

Composers Daniel Dehaan and Ryan Ingebritson collaborated with Kleijn to create the piece.

Dehaan says he hopes the audience will walk away with a new perspective on what goes on inside musicians' heads while they're playing.

"It really is a full-body experience when a performer is truly performing," Dehaan said.

The free performance is called Intelligence in the Human-Machine. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.