With new technology comes new opportunities to augment our reality, and two art projects now on view in Brooklyn experiment with our interaction with sound through electronic devices. Synaesthetics at Reverse Space in Williamsburg has New York-based Lisa Park’s “Eunoia II,” which uses an EEG headset to mind-control vibrating pools of water on 48 speakers, and Danish artists Louise Foo and Martha Skou’s “Format No. 1,” where 3D shapes installed on a wall transform into a music score through an iPhone app.
Synaesthetics takes its name from the neurological phenomenon of synesthesia, characterized by unusual connections between senses, like experiencing a number as having a color or color as having a sound. The black, block-like shapes in “Format No. 1” change to electronic sound when you hold one of three available iPhones over them, while thoughts morph into more electronic sound in “Eunoia II” through a NeuroSky device that goes over your forehead and clips onto an ear (although the pieces have different themes they both embrace the futuristic aesthetics of low-frequency oscillation).
Foo and Skou have been demonstrating in their practice how anything can be a music score, something they also explored in projects like “Sound of NYC Skyline” that generated frequencies based on the scale and shape of Manhattan skyscrapers. However, Park’s installation is really the standout of Synaesthetics, visualizing the way a brain’s activity can alter through meditating or active thinking, the volume going low when the brain goes still. Working with Colin Harrington and Amar Lal on the audio and sound engineering, she developed “Eunoia II” at the New Museum’s NEW INC incubator from an earlier “Eunoia” that had five speakers, both of which she’s incorporated into performances where through careful practice she can control the water’s movement with her thoughts.
Visitors to Reverse, where two at a time can try out the piece, might not have the same precision with directing the water or sound, but it shows the possibilities for EEG and creates a real interaction with an intimate aspect of ourselves we don’t often acknowledge. An accompanying Eudaimonia app generates visualizations of visitors’ brain waves. Other artists are also exploring EEG, like designer Aiste Noreikaite in “Experience Helmet,” which uses NeuroSky to turn data into sound to encourage meditation, or artist Jody Xiong’s “Mind Art” where 16 disabled people were able to paint through EEG sensors. And even going back to the 1960s, Alvin Lucier mixed brainwaves into his early electronic music. Guiding replacement limbs with thoughts or Carrie-like telekinesis may still be a ways off, but the possibilities are growing, and art projects like this can encourage considering what those possibilities might be.
Synaesthetics continues at Reverse Space (28 Frost Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) through June 6.