Interfacing Thoughts aims to investigate the aesthetic and performative potential of a live representation of a performers feelings and thoughts as she is performing. The installation works by utilizing EEG technology to get data from the performers head, processes this information, and then translating it into audio and vibration. This creates a scenario in which the performer is asked to investigate the space, however, since the space is depending on her mind, the project achieves an ever evolving feedback mechanism of self exploration.
Interfacing Thoughts was developed by sound artist Julie Østengaard, performance artist Ida Katinka Fridan Pedersen and yours truly. It was exhibited at CLICK festival in Helsingør, Spring 2019. The project was a joint venture between the above artists, CatCh (center for art & technology), Haut (experimental stage for independent groups and performing artists) and the Danish Arts Foundation.
The piece consits of both a installation, a performance and generative audio. During the performance the performer would be wearing the EEG headset from which we would get a live data feed constating her brainwave activity. The brainwaves would then be mapped onto a corresponding output used to vibrate bass shakers mounted underneath the platform as well as control semi-randomly generated audio. Thus, creating brainwave depending wave patterns in water and a generative audio interpretation of the data.
The idea was to make a one to one visualization of the waves generated in the mind of the performer as she was exploring the space of the installation. Therefore, the performer was encouraged to see herself as an intelligent being that has just popped into existence and now had to learn about itself, the space that it was put into and what effect its thoughts would have on its surroundings. This allowed us to investigate the feedback mechanism that occurs when the performer's brainwaves affects the installation, which consequently affects the performers state of mind, which then affects the installation, etc.
Very early on Julie and I agreed that we wanted a performing element in the project, however, it was equally as important that both of us felt like we could bring something from our respective artist practices to the table. Since Julie is a sound artist working with electronic music and soundscapes and I come from an installation practice in which I often investigating natural phenomena we managed to find a mutual interest in waves and frequency visualization.
Thus we began to investigate what ways to generate what waves. After several experiments we settled on waves generated by bass shakers that would be installed in the wooden frame underneath the water. However, we still had to find the best way to make the wave patterns as visible as possible. Therefore, we tried out multiple light sources and angles and confirmed that a powerful white light, from as perpendicular an angle as possible, would make the patterns most visible.
The system works by collecting EEG data from the performers head as she moved around in the pool of water. The data was then wirelessly transferred to a computer behind the scene in which the input was used to generate the frequencies for the bass shakers as well as function as an input seed for the generative audio. Both the waves and the audio was depending on the EEG input. However, in order to achieve the intended expression the audio was slightly curated by Julie as the performance was taking place. After receiving the EEG data and a bit of data processing the system then outputted a signal containing audio and vibration frequency to the installation itself. As indicated, the installation contained 16 addressable bass shakers as well as 4 high quality speakers with which it was actuated.
The whole thing was build in the old shipyard in Helsingør. Since we had to develop the performance prior to the CLICK festival we had to make a version of the installation that would be strong enough to have the performer move around on it as well as give us a realistic impression on what the wave patterns would look like when a person would be in the water. However, since we also knew that the installation would have to be moved into its intended location on the festival we wanted it to be relatively easily disassembled. Below you can see a few photos describing the process.
Thanks to Haut, CatCh, CLICK and the Danish Arts Foundation for supporting this project