A Body-Brain Duologue


Keith Brain & Matthew Shlomowitz



Much is known about how out body and brain communicate, yet this knowledge is rarely communicated through any medium other than popular science books, television documentaries and radio. These media are important, but can be didactic and may not engage all audiences.


It also seems to us that there is a great thirst for self-knowledge, self-reflection and holistic introspection in contemporary society, yet much of this is based on a limited knowledge of physiology, building on literately ancient ideas. Our position is that a holistic introspective approach can only be heightened by some basic exploration of the black box that, for many, our bodies seem to be.


So, we seek to explore new ways of both reflecting on and understanding our bodies through the medium of contemporary music (in its broadest sense). This medium seems ideal to engage with the duologue between brain and body, because much of this communication includes intrinsic rhythms, uses a finite set of simple tools (combined to create complex patterns), and involves the interplay of electricity and chemistry to produce just four outputs – for our bodies do nothing but contract, secrete and produce heat and radiation.


How do the body and brain communicate?

There are two central ways in which the brain and body communicate:

(1) Through the peripheral nervous system;

(2) Through chemicals, called hormones, released into the blood stream and circulating between the brain and the body.


The peripheral nervous system, can be considered (I’m avoiding the word divided!) into two systems, one involving voluntary action (the muscles which move our skeleton) called the ‘Somatic[1]’ nervous system and the other controlling our internal organs, called the ‘Autonomic[2]’ nervous system.


To narrow the scope of this project, and to optimally exploit our available expertise and to tackle a real challenge: we propose to focus on the Autonomic nervous system.


Why is the Autonomic nervous system a challenge? Because we have so little conscious awareness of its action, so understanding it though traditional mediums is difficult.


Why is this challenge worth facing through the medium of contemporary music?  Because the autonomic nervous systems engages keenly with musical and emotionally themes – it is intrinsically visceral, affecting and influenced by our emotional state, both rhythmic and stochastic, with no central conductor but with disseminated coordination. Hence the mode harmonises with the material.


[1] Literally, “body”

[2] This is the contemporary term, conveying the sense of its automatic or involuntary nature, but we think its wrong to think of it as an automaton. An older term, still sometimes used, is “vegetative”.