cover art for BRAINLAND THE OPERA - An introduction


BRAINLAND THE OPERA - An introduction

Season 1, Ep. 1

Brainland is a new opera that interweaves three stories from the history of 20th Neuroscience, created by four artists with a background in neuroscience and medicine, in development with by a range of associates. In these podcasts the creators of Brainland talk about the project and explore the historical background to those stories by speaking to academics and collaborators.


In this podcast the four artists who created Brainland talk about the origin of the project and their contributions. The four storylines, covered in detail in other episodes, are briefly outlined.


Tim Taylor, dancer, teacher; Programme manager for dance, Morley College, London.

Ken Barrett, research and design/librettist                                      

Stephen Brown, composer.

Heather Angus Leppan, poet (libretto)

Musical extracts: Act 1, Scene 7: Singers: Jodie Li-Smith and Hester Dart (Morley alumni)

For the full score, libretto, story outline, designs, animations and more go to the opera website:

Click the link below for an animated prelude to Act 1.


Contact: steve4cello@                    

Brainland the Podcast produced by Ken Barrett and Bob Barrett.

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  • 30. OBJECTS WITH SOUL: The strange power of puppets in opera.

    In this podcast Hayley talks us through the early history of puppets in opera, including the eighteenth century fashion for opera composed specifically for puppets. She goes on to describe the conclusions reached in her doctoral research, applying musicological thinking to marionette operas in our era, conclusions she considers applicable more widely to cinema and animation. These include her theory 'performance networks and poetic synchronicity. She talks about her experience of various performances and her conviction that the movement of puppets, expertly 'played', are inherently musical. Participants:Hayley Burton Richards, musicologist, musician, educator, Head of Music, Wilson's School.Ken Barrett, artist, writer, retired neuropsychiatrist"s beautifully written Harvard PhD thesi. 'Breath, Gravity and Death' can be accessed here: of the performances discussed: Teschner: Reiniger: music: extract from scene 2 of Brainland composed by Stephen Brown.Brainland the opera website: by KB.
  • 29. YOUR BRAIN ON RELIGION: Exploring the neuroscience of religious experience.

    In this podcast, after outlining some of the positive and negative of religious behaviour, Patrick discusses the key areas currently being studied in order to better understand the cognitive neuroscience of religion. These include REM sleep, the effects of psychedelic substances and the default mode network. ‘Decentering’, a key aspect of his team’s approach to the subject is explained along with the possible involvement of predictive processing. He discusses why he believes religion to be a ‘transformational technology’ and the impact of brain pathology on religiosity. Participants:Patrick McNamara, Professor, Department of Psychology, National UniversityAssociate Professor of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine, President Emeritus, Center for Mind and Culture, Boston MA. cognitiveneuroscienceofreligion.orgKen Barrett, artist, writer and retired neuropsychiatrist's recent books mentioned in the podcast: The cognitive neurosciecne of religious experience: Religion, neuroscience and the self: music: extract from the prelude to Brainland by Stephen Brown.Brainland the opera website: by KB.
  • 28. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH: The story of a movie.

    'A Matter of Life and Death' (AMOLAD) is a 1946 film by Michael Powell and Emerich Pressberger. Peter Carter, a bomber pilot is returning from the last raid of the war. His plane and parachute are shot up so he decides to 'jump rather than fry' and has a last conversation over the radio with June, an American radio operator before jumping, as he expects, to his death. He doesn't die but washes up on a beach and as a love story unfolds between him and June he is menaced by recurrent episodes (clinically, complex partial epileptic seizures though the words aren't mentioned in the film) during which a 'conductor' from the afterlife tries to persuade him to return with him as he shouldn't really have survived. The film culminates in a realistically staged neurosurgical operation on Peter whilst in the afterlife his case to go on living is put on trial trial. Ian explains why this is his favourite film of all time (as it is Ken's),their conversation ranging over origin and influences, forebears and progeny, design and music, the clincial neuroscience that underpins it and much more.Participants:Ian Christie, Professor of Film and Media History, Birckbeck, University of London. www.ianchristie.orgKen Barrett, artist and writer, retired neuropsychiatrist more about 'A Matter of Life and Death': (SEE IT!) the UK it is currently (on 21.6.24) On BBC Iplayer.Ian's book: other book mentioned, on the neuroscientific background of the film, is by Diane Broadbent Friedman: This is a paper by the same author: is the the book by Frigyes Karinthy which was part of the inspiration: music, extract from the prelude to Brainland by Stephen Brown.Brainland the opera website: by KB.
  • 27. THE VITAL SPARK: A pianist's tale.

    Susan Tomes is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning pianist specialising in chamber music as well as solo repertoire. Here she talks to Stephen Brown about her musical origins in Edinburgh, what it was like being the first woman to read music at King’s College Cambridge, how she built her performing career starting from a single room in Crystal Palace, and the transformative influence of working with the violinist Sándor Végh at the Prussia Cove seminars in Cornwall. She talks about sensitivity and reciprocity in ensemble playing, about communicating with audiences and the mysteries of how a musical phrase sometimes sounds exactly right. She has written seven books to date. The latest, "Women and the Piano: A History in 50 Lives" was published in March 2024 by Yale University Press.Participants:Susan Tomes, pianist and writer Brown, composer, cellist and former neuropsychiatrist link for Women and the Piano recording of the Faure Piano Quartets has been reissued by Hyperion and is available here. Extract from Faure Piano Quartets, with permission, reissued by Hyperion and available here. the oepra website: by KB.
  • 26. YOUR MUSICAL HEALTH: The efficacy of music as therapy.

    In this podcast academic and clinical music therapists, musicians and friends Helen Odell-Miller and Penny Rogers discuss their life work – music therapy. They define and outline the varieties of music therapy, discuss their journey from training as musicians to studying music therapy and cognitive psychology (Penny) and psychodynamic psychotherapy (Helen). Penny talks about her clinical work in various settings and Helen her career at the forefront of research into the positive effects of music therapy (ameliorating conditions as varied as agitation in dementia to PTSD). They also talk about how their continuing musical practice in group settings (Helen singing, Penny cello) enriches their day-to-day lives and improves their professional practice.Participants:Helen Odell-Miller OBE, Professor Emeritus, Anglia Ruskin University; Founding Director of Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research; Chair of The Music Therapy Charity; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts Rogers, music therapist; Deputy Director, Safeguarding & Public Protection at Devon Partnership NHS Trust; Trustee, British Association for Music Therapy; 'cellist. Brown, musician; composer; retired professor of neuropsychiatry and further reading:Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy (CIMTR): Association for Music Therapy College of Psychiatrists Introductory Module at E-LEARNING hub: recent research papers:Thompson, N et al.(2023). Investigating the impact of music therapy on two in-patient psychiatric wards for people living with dementia: retrospective observational study. BJPsych Open, 9(2), e42. doi:10.1192/bjo.2023.20Odell-Miller, H et al.(2022). The HOMESIDE Music Intervention: A Training Protocol for Family Carers of People Living with Dementia. European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education, 12(12), 1812-1832. Doi: 10.3390/ejihpe12120127Odell-Miller, H., (2021) Embedding Music and Music Therapy in Care Pathways for People with Dementia in the 21st Century—a position paper. Music and Science. MH et al.(2015). The impact of music therapy on managing neuropsychiatric symptoms for people with dementia and their carers: a randomised controlled feasibility study. BMC Geriatrics. 15:84 doi:10.1186/s12877-015-0082-4Music: Opening and closing music to the opera 'Brainland', composed by Stephen BrownBrainland the opera website: by KB.
  • 25. THE VITAL SPARK: A director's tale.

    This is another in the Vital Spark series exploring facets of creativity with a range of artists and academics. In this conversation Italian director, actor and teacher Chiara D'Anna speaks about her work and creative process, beginning with images, physical and emotional atmosphere before involving words. We discuss her acting in film, particularly with Peter Strickland (Duke of Burgundy and Berberian Sound Studio) and her training and teaching in commedia dell’arte, an Italian tradition of theatre she outlines for us. We talk about her evolving one woman show and the differences in performing in Italian or English, particularly in relation to humour and comic timing. She also speaks about her major upcoming project. co-directing Strauss’ opera Ariadne auf Naxos in Budapest. Participants: Chiara D’Anna, director, actor, teacher and Commedia Dell’Arte specialist. Ken Barrett, artist and writer, retired neuropsychiatrist more on commedia dell'Arte this is Chiara's YouTube channel: Music: Prelude to the opera 'Brainland' composed by Stephen Brown.Sketch by KB.Brainland the opera website: 
  • 24. THE VITAL SPARK: A novelist's tale.

    The Vital Spark’ is an occasional series delving into aspects of creativity. For this podcast Stephen Brown travelled to the far west of Cornwall for a conversation with novelist, screen writer and fellow cellist Patrick Gale. Patrick talks about his unusual childhood, his journey from musician and singer to becoming a successful writer, the life events that help enliven his novels and the research that underpins them. He speaks about his writing process, including the need to leave self behind and inhabit characters. Other aspects of the creative process are also touched upon and good editors get a mention. They discuss the similarity between composing music and writing to commission and, as a case in point, Patrick talks about his recent stage adaptation of his novel ‘Take Nothing With You’ and his hopes for a multipart screen adaptation of ‘A Town Called Winter’. Participants:Patrick Gale, novelist, screenwriter, playwright and musician Stephen Brown, musician, composer and retired neuropsychiatrist. Prelude to the opera 'Brainland' composed by Stephen Brown.Sketch by KB. Brainland the opera website:
  • 23. BRAINWAVES: Hans Berger and the discovery of the EEG.

    In this special extended edition of the podcast, we take a deep dive into the life and work of Hans Berger, the German psychiatrist who discovered the EEG a century ago this year, the inspiration for a major character in the opera Brainland. Cornelius Borck is a leading German historian of medicine and science and an expert on Berger and his work. In a wide ranging conversation he describes the scientific backdrop to Berger’s discovery, his early career and personality, how the discovery came about, why it took him 5 years to report his findings and why he was denied the Nobel Prize. We also discuss his eugenic sympathies and relationship with the Nazis, his decline into depression and the post-war mythology that grew up around him. Participants:Cornelius Borck, Professor and Director of the Institute for History of Medicine and Science Studies, Lübeck University, Germany. Ken Barrett, artist, writer and retired neuropsychiatrist. . Cornelius’s book on this subject: Music: Stephen Brown’s depiction of the alpha rhythm of the EEG, from Brainland Act 1, scene 2.Sketch by KB.Brainland the opera website:
  • 22. OBJECTS WITH SOUL: The strange power of puppetry.

    Why do we respond to puppets? That's what this episode explores, with the help of Pia and Ana, academics who approach the question from different perspectives. We discover what is meant by the 'uncanny valley' and how it links puppetry to robots (and zombies!) and discuss if 'concptual blending' might be useful. Does the old notion of 'suspending disbelief' hold water? Ana talks about her project using a viewer's direction of gaze to explore this question in re;ation to puppetry.Participants:Pia Banzhaf, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, Department of Linguistics , Lanuages and Culture; Center for Integrrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities; Collaborations for Applied puppetry Research. Website: KaleidoscopiaAna Diaz Barriga, Doctoral Candidate, Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Theatre & Drama, Northwestern University. Barrett, artist, writer and retired neuropsychiatrist.'s chapter, 'The Ontology of puppets' is here: about the show Ana has been studying is hereMore about the 'uncanny valley is here: this image illustrates it: Prelude to Brainland, Act 1, composed by Stephen BrownSketch by KB.Brainland the opera: