Keynote: 'With the right beat, you can go anywhere': Musicking the biohack in the Data Age

Activity: OtherTypes of External academic engagement - Invited talk


In his ‘Beginner’s Guide to Biohacking’, Dave Asprey—purveyor of ‘bulletproof coffee’ and other supplements—includes listening to music as one of several ‘actionable biohacks’ one ‘can start doing immediately’. Under the alluring heading, ‘Hear Music, Change Your Brain’ (hack #5), Asprey divulges his ‘personal secret to hacking focus’. It is to ‘Put on headphones. Open Spotify. Play instrumental rock or electronic music.’ With that, he gets lost in his work. The formula is almost farcically simple, but Asprey goes on to make a reference to ‘audio brainwave entrainment’, suggesting there is more to the method. In this talk I discuss music, technology, entrainment, and the current zeitgeist of self-improvement in an era when, as John Cheney-Lippold describes, we have ‘algorithmic identities’. I have a particular interest in apps that tailor musical playlists to runners, and I use the framework of biohacking to place the body at the center of this data-scape. In this sense, my talk offers a counterpoint to Antoinette Rouvroy’s arguments about ‘algorithmic governmentality’, by which ‘embodied individuals’ are extraneous to the ‘statistical bodies’ that they produce. If, as Rouvroy argues, the ‘personal psychological motivations or intentions’ of individuals are immaterial in this ‘governmental context’, for biohackers, by contrast, they are paramount. And music is sometimes seen as a vital aid in achieving specific bodily goals. I invite RMA Study Day participants to explore and reflect on these emerging tendencies with me. (Cheney-Lippold 2017; Rouvroy 2016)
Period20 May 2017
Event titleRMA Study Day: Music, Media, Technologies
Event typeConference
LocationDurham, United KingdomShow on map


  • Keynote address
  • Royal Musical Association