KU News Release

July 8, 2010
Contact: Erin Curtis-Dierks, School of Music, (785) 864-9742

Film helps viewers 'experience' effects of epilepsy

LAWRENCE — Three University of Kansas professors have collaborated on a film that uses symphonic music to help viewers “experience” an epileptic seizure and see how disruptive a seizure is to the brain’s normal functions. They hope their film will help to educate the public about epilepsy.

Epilepsy, a condition in which a person has unprovoked seizures, affects 60 million people worldwide. Deron McGee and Kip Haaheim, both associate professors of music theory/music composition, worked closely with Ivan Osorio, professor of neurology at the KU Medical Center, on the creation of the film, titled “It is Epilepsy — The Challenges and Promises of Automated Seizure Control.” The film captures the study done by Osorio and his colleagues on the development of a nonpharmacological implantation treatment for predicting and preventing epileptic seizures.

In the film, Osorio wanted to illustrate the dynamics of a seizure and thought symphonic music would be the most accessible way viewers could visualize a seizure. McGee and Haaheim were recruited to help choose a symphonic piece that best mirrored the normal function of a brain. Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor was chosen because it is recognizable by a large and diverse audience and because of its moderate and serious tempo and complex nature. Haaheim and McGee then created a modified version of the piece to show how disruptive a seizure is to the brain’s normal functions. The modified version, performed in the film by the KU Symphony Orchestra, depicts how the brain breaks down during the various stages of an epileptic seizure.

“I am a patient of Dr. Osorio, who is fascinated with symphonic music,” said McGee. “He believes there is a close parallel between symphonic music and the operation of the brain, so he contacted me and asked if I would participate in an interdisciplinary team of scholars working on this project.

“Music provides a powerful means for communicating complex ideas and addressing the emotional distress involved when having a seizure to a broader audience, which is why we were asked to write this ‘musical metaphor’ for a seizure.”

The film was released in May and is being submitted to regional and national festivals. It already has picked up several awards, including a Gold Kahuna Award for Excellence in Filmmaking from the 2010 Honolulu Film Festival, a Silver Palm Award from the 2010 Mexico International Film Festival and a Best Educational Film award from the 2010 Amsterdam Film Festival. A DVD also will available through the Alliance for Epilepsy Research website after a national showing.

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