Grace Leslie performs processed flute affected by her brainwaves over an unfolding drone of directly synthesized EEG brain data.
Vessels is a brain-body performance practice that combines flute and electronics improvisation with EEG (electroencephalogram brainwave data) sonification. In this piece, I record raw electroencephalogram (EEG), electrodermal activity (EDA) and electrocardiogram (ECG) signals and use them actuate sound samples recorded from my flute and voice.
Slow impulse trains generated by my physiology become a series of finger snaps that reveal this static virtual space over time, while faster ones become a wet finger running along the rim of a glass, activating a virtual resonant enclosure.
My natural inclination was to improvise on the flute while using this sonification system, and I quickly learned to pare down my playing, and limit any overt physical expression or gross musical gestures, as the muscle artifacts produced would flood the “vessels” with unwanted noise.
The music that emerged from this practice, enabled by interactive electronics, allows slow breathing and long tones to bloom into massive sound structures. Through a daily practice of improvising with this system I have developed a paradoxical form of “introspective expression” that was enabled by training my body and perceptual mechanism with custom-engineered, musical biofeedback.
In “Vessels,” the sonic material is an almost static, digital and virtual space, and the musical narrative slowly emerges through an unfolding of cognitive and affective states.
Vessels was originally conceived in 2015 and has evolved over almost 2 years of performances over several countries and continents. This documention comes from a site-specific recording project that took place in September 2016. The selection here presents one continuous take from these recording sessions. Max Citron engineered this recording in the Eero Saarinen Chapel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, USA, where I hold a position as a Visiting Scientist.
“Using equipment that monitors the electrical activity of her brain, changes in her heart rate and subtle shifts in the conductance of her skin, she is creating music from the signals produced by her own body while on stage.
Leslie plays these signals through an electronic synthesiser to produce ambient sounds that reflect what is going on in her body. She can also filter the sounds from musical instruments, like a flute, with the signals from her body to mix them together in a computer. . .
. . .Ultimately, Leslie believes this innovative form of musical expression could be used to help those who have difficulty interacting with the world, such as those with autism.”
- Richard Gray, BBC Future Dec 9, 2016
Featured on Sounds of the Dawn (NTS Radio), Vessel No. 1 was recorded at Noh Place while Grace Leslie was a researcher at The MIT Media Lab.