The Spikiss Project

Alain Destexhe and Luc Foubert

June 2016.

Music from neuronal activity during dreams

In the present page, we give more detail on how we have translated human brain activity into music, for recordings made while the subject was sleeping, in the “rapid eye movement” (REM) sleep, also called “paradoxical sleep”, where most dreams occur. This corresponds to the song “REMiniscence”

Excitatory neuronal activity during REM sleep

One of the most striking feature of REM sleep is that the activity of the brain is very similar — almost undistinguishable — from that during wakefulness. Like in the waking state, the activity of neurons is very irregular and asynchronous. We recorded neurons during REM sleep, and 14 excitatory neurons were played on synthetic bells.

To listen to that example, click on “Dreaming Bells”. One can hear very well the irregular aspect of the neuronal spikes (compare with the similar sound during wakefulness, “Neuronal Bells”).

One can also play the excitatory cells above to a very high sound, like that of clochettes (small bells). In that case, 18 excitatory neurons were used. To listen to that example, click on “Dreaming Clochettes”.

We can also use bell sounds at more medium frequencies, using 18 other excitatory cells. This complement very well the clochettes. To listen to that sound, click on “Dreaming midBells”.

As done in other songs, one can also use excitatory neurons to drive slow sounds. For example, one can take one of the sets of 18 excitatory neurons played on the same slow “Woo-Woo” sound considered in Wake Beats, click on “Dreaming Woo”.

Finally, to better illustrate the strangeness of dreams, we also have used sounds that remind this strange character, such as voices (also from 18 neurons). To listen to that sound, click on “Dreaming Voices”. We also used other sounds that remind screams (from the same set of 18 neurons). To listen to that sound, click on “Dreaming Screams”. These are all generated from the same ensemble of excitatory neurons, split into groups of 18 cells.

Activity of inhibitory neurons during REM sleep

Like in other brain states, the inhibitory neurons are very rhythmic, and we can exploit this rythmicity to form the bass and drum sections. In the REM sleep song, we have given a particlar emphasis on this rhythmicity. As a first example, we have chosen a set of 7 particularly rhythmic inhibitory cells and used these neurons to drive a drum kick.

To listen to this sound, click on “Dreaming Kick”. To further enhance the rhythm, we have duplicated this kick, and shifted the duplicate by about half a second, which yields a double kick, with particularly striking rhythmicity. To listen to this sound, click on “Dreaming Double Kick”.

Finally, we have used 2 very rhythmic inhibitory neurons to pilot a “Virus” type of synthesizer, and tuned by hand the filtering of the sound. This provides a changing rhythm, which was also used in the rhythmic section. To listen to that sound, click on “Dreaming Virus”.

Assembling it all together

Let us now listen to the full song, where all of the above sounds were used:


In this song, although the activity was very similar to that of wakefulness, we voluntarily made it sound very different. We have emphasized the rhythmic character of the inhibitory neurons. Similar to the Wake Beats or Slow Waves songs, the activity of the different neurons is strictly respected, as well as the respective timing of the spikes of the different cells. We have used in addition a drumkit and a bass, but all the rest of the music comes from neuronal activity.


Alain Destexhe and Luc Foubert. Composing music from neuronal activity – The Spikiss Project. In: Exploring Transdisciplinarity in Art and Sciences, Edited by Kapoula, Z., Volle, E., Renoult, J. and Andreatta, M. Springer, New York, pp. 237-253, 2018.

(see abstract)

PDF copy of the chapter.

Soundclick link

Internet Archive Wake links,

Internet Archive Sleep links

Internet Archive REM links

Soundcloud link

www.spikiss.org (available soon…)

Copyright note:

We decided to distribute this music freely, under the protection of a Creative Commons Licence “share alike non commercial” (see below). This means that you are welcome to share and edit the present work, under the condition that you give us proper acknowledgment, and also distribute it freely (and give us a copy!). No commercial application please, unless we have an agreement. The official licence information is pasted below:

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