One of the best parts of being a new media artist is having the ability to connect so many different ideas and tools together, both literally and figuratively. Recently we've been in touch with Luciana Haill and Sam Wiehl who shared with us some of the details behind their latest collaboration PZYK SKAN which brings together so many amazing things into a single project that we had to share it with all of you. The initial description was “I use PandoraStar strobe lights as precursors for EEG brainwave projects, where signals from the brain of the audience are triggers to live events via Max Msp, Ableton, OSC and recently VDMX when we collaborated” and you can read all about it below!
1. Who are you, and what do you do?
As Artistic Director of Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, I showcase experimental music and visual art, bringing together artists and audiences from all over the world.
I focusing on live performance, visual styling and installation design, and combine these with an aim to create immersive experience for an audience. My work exists at the intersection of image, narrative and tone and takes in many forms. I have collaborated and toured with a number of international musicians and artists which include Matthew Herbert, Chris Watson, Forest Swords, Hookworms, Jane Weaver and Vessel. Projects include installational AV work with a number of cutting-edge UK clubs nights including Abandon Silence and Enrg - an example here Lightbox, as well as directing music videos like Forest Swords Panic. Commissions include Tate Britain, Unsound, Loop Berlin and AND Festival.
Luciana Haill: I’m a Fine Artist specialising researching Altered States of Consciousness, my artworks are interactive, investigating the neural correlates, suggesting and stimulating the surreal psychophenomenological characteristics preceding an Altered State of Consciousness, and interviewing participants about their experiences.
For instance I am fascinated by the hybrid state of Lucid Dreaming (where you are asleep and aware you are dreaming and exert some control). For my artworks I love inducing a state of Hypnagogia, associated with an increase in ‘Theta’ brainwaves, where time passes without quantification, new ideas emerge and creativity increases. I use devices old and new to help encourage these and similar 'drugless highs' - such as those induced by lights and sounds like Dreamachines, drumming and drones. My technological toolkit permits the recording and implementation of brainwaves (EEG signal), something I’ve beed doing with a mac for over 20 years. I am currently a research fellow ( Artist in Residence ) for Greenwich University London, department of Psychology. I also have a company Brainmachine specialising in the manufacture of a portable brainwave (EEG) recording technology based on the south coast St Leonards, Hastings. I've shown my work in Mexico City, Lithuania and been trained in Hawaii by Dr Stephen Laberge who brought the evidence of lucid dreaming to the scientific community in the sleep laboratory.
2. How did you get into this?
My background was initially in Graphic Design, running the Liverpool design studio Burneverything. With time, I started to focus on moving image and live performance. Having worked predominantly in the DIY music scene of the North of England, running and promoting smaller music shows and events, I became one of the organisers of the Hive Collective which showcased new and established electronic performance. The collective brought acts from all over the world to Liverpool, and with time, began to produce its own AV installations and performances, as well as numerous commissions.
At this point I was on a crash course learning curve about live AV and performance, and it offered me a (ridiculous!) opportunity to produce live sets for incredible selection of artists including Plaid, The Bug, Shackleton, Kode 9, Vladislav Delay, Teleseen, Kangding Ray, Philip Jeck and Pendle Covern.
I studied a degree in Fine Art / Interactive Art in the early 1990s led by pioneering Telematic artist ( and teacher of Brian Eno ) Roy Ascott
I attempted to make various bio projects for making music combining sensors from muscles into Midi information, then
my quest in cybernetics inspired by artist Stelarc led me to the brain.
I've worked with legendary musician Arthur Brown in the last few years taking his brainwaves during improvisation singing sessions and feeding this back as other generative instrumentation, we actually debuted some of this live on stage in Bestiville - Isle of Wight festival 2015.
My strobe light-driven installations stimulate (behind closed eyes) colourful patterns of phosphenes: ‘form constants’ and ‘Flicker’ visuals intrinsic in these ephemeral artworks where I monitors percipients’ brainwaves using a portable EEG system. The Hypnagogic state can be recognised by a “loosening of ego boundaries … openness, sensitivity, internalization-subjectification of the physical and mental environment” – all characteristics frequently described by percipients in the interactive art works as I interview them immediately afterwards.
3. Tell us all about this latest project and how you became involved with The Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia.
Craig Pennington, one of the original organisers of The Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia (now in its 6th year) contacted me and wanted to know more about my current Artwork ‘The Phrontesterion’ where I involve a sophisticated scientific strobe lamp known as PandoraStar to induce an altered state of consciousness close to sleep known as The Hypnagogic, while recalling in a dentist chair. Participants experience a light reverie where we receive images and ideas, often non-linear narratives, behind our closed eyes as we drift off to sleep. I monitor their brainwave changes during this experienced and sonify it, feeding it back to the guest as a multi layered sound piece with different samples and field recordings triggered by different EEG frequencies and voltages from the front of their head.
Craig and I had been looking to collaborate for our main AV installation at PZYK festival this year - we looked at brainwaves as a trigger for an immersive art piece in out PZYK PRYZM space. Our intention was to produce a piece that would work as a interactive AV experience for the festival audience, something people could take part in, as well as watch. The piece was entitled PZYK SKAN and was important to us in examining the festivals core theme this year of extreme cause and effect processes on the human brain. It used sound and light to control emotion. We came across Luciana’s work and it seemed a good fit and was great to work with her.
Our core message this year was THIS FESTIVAL WILL DESTROY YOU, and PZYK SKAN gave us the opportunity to explore this theme, whilst collaborating with a number of individuals - Luicianna Haill, Stephen Goodman (Kode 9) and Robert Strachan. Stephen was speaking at this years festival regarding his 'Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and The Ecology of Fear’ book and studies, and was working as Audit. Together with Robert, they produced a series of sound stems that would be used alongside the visual content of PZYK SKAN.
The piece took the form of the 'brain scanning area’, run by Luciana, with her wave readings being taken into a machine running VDMX. this was connected to a large projection screen and the sound stems were driven from the brain waves, which then ran into a sound system in the space. It was here that audience participation meant we could scan a number of people, and the results drove both the visual and sound experience for the watching audience. The ‘ volunteer’s' experience was the bombardment of the Pandora Star, and the sound that was generated live, by the stems on headphones for immersion and on the PA !
We saw this as creating a kind of feed back loop of what the test subject experienced, affected the experience of the watching audience - the more extreme the response of brain wave pattern - the more extreme the experience was for the audience. The piece was to run for several hours each day at the festival with the audience encourage to take part in the process. People really seemed to enjoy the experience which certainly was intense.
4. What hardware and software did you use? How was it all connected?
The visual side of the project was controlled by VDMX, and sound was by Garage Band. It was all triggered by the mdii output from the IBVA wave scanning. The visuals we controlled in two major ways from the midi signal. Alongside myself, Benjamin Power and Damien Wiehl helped create content for the patch.
Over 200 animations, films and ISF shaders were created and broken in to 2 media banks - one was ‘calm’, and the other ‘intense’. By mapping the midi signal, animations/shaders were triggered - the low end brain waves pulling from the ‘calm’ bank and higher readings pulled from the ‘intense’ field. The more activity from the brain the faster the jump between the randomly pulled animations from the relevant bank. If the waves flattened out less jumping was noticed between the different content and the films played out more in their entirety giving the audience a calmer experience. With no one being scanned the wave was flat meaning again nothing would be triggered jus the last film being triggered. This gave the piece it spikes and gave the audience and understanding of how things were triggered.
We obviously controlled the content but we found this was our curation, our involvement, for the project. For example, glacial landscapes and slow motion human movement and abstract shaders, and were included as part of the ‘calm’ content. Whereas more extreme flashing and intense footage were included in the ‘intense' section. As these were triggered randomly - just from the brain waves and the overplayed nature of the footage - no two responses / experiences were the same. Each was unique and had their own feel. Unexpected, surprising, results were achieved and were fascinating to observe for us us, and hopefully for the audience.
The other control from the midi signal visually was when we colour mapped the wave. It resulted in an intense wave pattern, with a strong colour change and intensity. Calmer wave patterns created less intense movement and pulled from a different colour range. I studied colour effect on the brain, and blue light is often seem as creating the most pleasant experience for a viewer. So these hues were pulled on lower brain wave readings where are reds orange yellow were seen as having extremer reactions on the brain for the viewer - the palette used for the higher readings.
Together these two visual mappings helped us create the overall visual experience for the piece, and coupled with the audio that was triggered by Luciana, the piece morphed and developed over the two days. The live experience was our first test. We do feel the pice can develop with time, but we were happy with the first experiment.
The software is ‘IBVA’ - Interactive Brainwave Visual Analyser and it communicates the EEG signal directly into MIDI, QC / OSC, and for Max/ Msp on a Mac, its been developed and sold since mid 1990s. I use IBVAs custom ‘BrainSwitch' Audio Unit Plugins for the left and right side of the brain, installed in my Mac to setup potentially 16 different switches which I can assign unique parameters to within IBVA software. SO certain brainwaves speed and amplitude can be designated to trigger a sample if they are in range… this does vary from person to person,, some concentrate more ,, find it harder to ‘switch off ‘ self consciousness ‘… and others with some meditation practice or just deep circular breathing can trigger a much more detailed and dynamic remix of the same 16 tracks… its really fascinating to hear - I’m sharing more of these on my Vimeo channel.