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Professors develop music model for epilepsy research

18 March, 2002

Medical and music researchers are using a symphony orchestra to explain epilepsy to the general public, according to a report at classical.com.

Staff at the University of Kansas say that in a seizure, the brain behaves like an orchestra with one player after another suddenly playing at random. Eventually the music dissolves into chaos.

"We want to explain how epilepsy works in a way you wouldn't have to be a neurobiologist to understand," said assistant professor of music Kip Haaheim.

University staff chose the opening of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 - a piece familiar to most people. The abnormal brain signals of epilepsy are represented by an oboe repeating a dissonant note. Other orchestra sections join in the confusion until the work is no longer recognisable.

Following a seizure, the brain returns to normal, but the sufferer is disorientated and confused. The orchestra returns to the Mozart symphony, but some sections start and stop the music independently, so it sounds out of sync.

The research is gaining attention, and later this month the university's symphony orchestra will record the 1½ minute track for a documentary being filmed.

In April Haaheim and associate professor of music Deron McGee will present a paper, 'Developing a Musical Metaphor to Understand Brain Functions' at the Rocky Mountain Society for Music Theory Conference.