Perhaps when you imagine a mathematics PhD student, the picture in your mind is different from when you imagine a DJ. Alma Lindborg is both. Known to many as DJ Almaty, she is currently finishing her PhD in the department of Applied Mathematics at the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen. Though a native of Sweden, part of her heart may have always belonged to Berlin. This summer, she worked as a visiting scholar with AG Senkowski at the Charité, applying her specialized knowledge of mathematics to design, run and analyze an EEG study on neural oscillatory activity during speech comprehension. She was interested in how the brain integrates visual and auditory information when someone hears and sees another person speaking. Daniel Senkowski, a researcher and cognitive behavioral therapist, has a long record of investigating (and publishing on) neural oscillatory activity during multisensory integration. It was a good fit.
Also a good fit was Berlin, a major electronic music hub of the world. This is what Alma has to say about math, music and chasing the flow state.
Which came first? The love of DJ’ing or the love of science? How did you get started with DJ’ing?
I’ve loved both music and science since I was a little kid, but in their current expressions these interests formed sometime in my early 20’s when I did my BSc in mathematics and also went out dancing a lot. Studying maths and dancing for me both share a pursuit of the flow state, of letting go of everything, losing track of time, but in two different ways of course. I would sit and study really intensely and listen to techno on weekdays, and on weekends I would go out. Friends told me I should start playing, but I didn’t dare until I joined a women-only crew that wanted to change the very male-dominated local scene. In that environment, taking up DJ’ing was easy because it felt like a politically important thing to do, and we were a group of enthusiastic people teaching and supporting one another.
How would you describe your style of music?
I like to mix a lot of different styles when I DJ and I’d say that my sets are pretty busy and eclectic, so quite different from some DJs who work with slower transitions of mood and intensity. The styles I play most frequently would probably be acid, rave, breakbeat and electro, although I also play more and more trance and progressive house. A lot of the music I play is from the early 90’s so my sets usually have a bit of an oldschool feel, but I like to mix it up with newer sounds. The oldschool feel is true for my own productions too, although I try to steer clear of the most nostalgic clichés.
When we talked you seemed to really enjoy living in Berlin, and the music scene seemed to be a big part of it. Can you tell me what particularly draws you to this city?
Berlin has a spirit of freedom and exploration, it attracts a lot of interesting people and there’s always something going on. So for me it’s a great place to live and work in. There are lots of places with an interesting music scene (London would maybe fit my taste in music better, actually) but the overall quality of living is a lot higher in Berlin I think.
What’s a great memory (or two) you have from a show that you have played?
The best moments are when I feel intensely connected to the dancefloor and I can tell that people share that feeling with me. It’s happened many times when I played at local underground parties with lots of friends on the floor, of course, but also in unexpected places. Recently when I played at a pretty posh club abroad this older woman came up to me several times to say how much she enjoyed the music. I could tell she probably didn’t get to go out and dance to music she enjoyed that often anymore (she was probably a big raver back in the days though). That was a sweet encounter.
Are making music and the study of neural oscillations related (other than the fact that they both involve you)?
I’m keeping them separate for now. Of course there are a lot of interesting psychoacoustic aspects to making music (many of them probably related to neural oscillations), but at this point I’m not confident that connecting these two areas of my life would make my music (or research) better. I like my music to be about flow and spontaneity, whereas I have to be analytical and skeptical when I do my research. I’m really happy to have the opportunity to do both.
Alma will be returning to Berlin in 2020 for a post-doc position at Uni Potsdam, examining the neural correlates of an artificial neural network model for language comprehension based in predictive coding.