Feature Stories

Deep Ellum's Lady Brain Studios Specializes in Bizarre Noise Toys for Musicians

Inside an art studio in Deep Ellum, two people are working on Wayne Coyne's brain. The studio is called Lady Brain Studios and the two people are the studio's owners, Darcy Neal and Hailey Moore. Oh, and the brain isn't really Coyne's brain, merely the latest iteration of a custom-made "noise toy" for the Flaming Lips' idiosyncratic front man. But the "Wayne Brain" isn't the only thing that's a little off-the-wall at Lady Brain, where they specialize in interactive tools for musicians and gamers.

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Neal and Moore met a little over a year ago. "This started as a hobby," says Moore, of Lady Brain Studios. "We've both paid our dues as starving artists and probably will again." But they are currently making a living wage with Lady Brain Studios and plan to offer workshops in the future.

Neal is a noise musician with a solo project called drc3p0. She had a duo called Ulnae with Lily Taylor; now the two have formed a trio with Princess Haultaine III called XIOIX. She also has an extensive background building and repairing enormous animatronic dinosaurs and insects for zoos all over the world. After controlling sound for years, Neal was taken with the idea of controlling light.

Moore, meanwhile, has been working in alternate reality games for a decade. In this format, players interact with fictional characters in a fictional environment. But there is also real world, physical aspects to these games. Some of them culminate with in-person play. "Books are awesome," says Moore. "But I wanted to get into more interactive stuff."

When she found out about alternate reality games with crazy characters living on the Internet, she was hooked. "I want to write about conspiracies and have people solve mysteries," she continues. Moore does some writing for these games, but mainly participates by creating physical objects for what are called "live drops:" Players meet actors or game designers to receive objects like a token for drinks in a virtual seedy bar or an emergency shutoff key for murderous robots.

Five years ago, Neal created what is essentially a theremin that responds to light levels. A video she posted of the device caught the attention of Daniel Huffman, who plays music as New Fumes. Huffman showed it to Wayne Coyne, who immediately wanted it. Neal met with them and was happy to give it to Coyne as a gift. After testing it onstage a few times, Coyne requested a more durable version with little tentacles coming out of it. "I custom made an instrument for him with these specifications," Neal explains.

But Coyne currently has them working on a more complicated version of the device for an upcoming art exhibit full of psychedelic installations The American Visionary Museum in Baltimore. There will be a giant head that visitors can enter through the mouth. Wayne Coyne built a sculpture, a brain full of lights. Again, he contacted Neal to put a light theremin in the device. Lady Brain Studios had just opened, so the timing was serendipitous.

"Now we are automating and streamlining it," says Neal. Initially, the whole color sequence was just one pattern. But Moore has programmed the lights individually and different parts of the brain now light up with different colors. "The Universal Death Sound and Light Cube Prototype No. 1," which Neal and Moore refer to as the "Wayne Brain," is an upgraded version of the original light-reactive instrument. It's a square wave oscillator that creates a high-pitched sound in light and a low-pitched sound in the dark. What they have now is a nearly completed prototype.

The Wayne Brain consists of an amplifier, sound circuit and 18 different strains of LED lights. If you have ever seen the Flaming Lips gummy skulls, this is likely an offspring of that. Coyne also has wax brains stuffed with LED lights that heat up until the brain melts. He even plans to have yet another version with a fetus inside the brain cavity.

Neal wears a similar device while performing. It hangs from her head and has fingers. She puts it around her neck and hooks it up to an amp. It sounds like a soundtrack to a horror film. In soft light, with low-pitched noise, the killer is stalking his prey. In bright light, with high-pitched sounds, someone's getting killed. "It's a lot prettier than it was before," Moore says of the sounds. "It's a lot less like a screaming tortured soul. It sounds much more trippy and ambient." Neal explains that audiences are typically surprised and confused by these sounds, but very receptive.

With skills that compliment each other, they work together well. Take "The Wayne Brain," for example. Neal built the base, sourced the power supply, and built the sound circuit. Moore did all the programming, wired the lights, and made it more complicated by having separate hemispheres of the "brain" trigger different colored lights flashing at different speeds.

For another project, Neal and Moore are working on sophisticated LED lighting systems for large-scale environments for airsoft gameplay that can take up an entire day, if not two. These are not your typical structures for military simulations or paintball. Rather, these are immersive environments like simulacrum castles or even cities for gamers to physically step into and compete in story driven games. They are also working on a switchboard from the 1960s, digging out the insides and replacing them with electronics to create a modern phone system. And, of course, it will have LED lights and make strange sounds: "We're going to haunt the hell out of this thing," says Moore, and laughs.


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