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Brainstorming Synesthesia At Sonos Studios, Wednesday January 14th 2015

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octopus brainstorm

More and more artists collaborate with scientists, and I got a good example of this on Wednesday night while attending ‘Brainstorming: Synesthesia’ at Sonos Studios. My problem is that, as soon as science is involved, I am looking for explanations, which are not necessarily coming with this sort of performance…. After all it is also art and art does not require explanation, or rather should not require any, at the risk to spoil the whole experience. So I left the place with a lot of question marks and a big mystery in my mind, but it may be for the best.

Presented by the Art|Sci Center, the performance, because it was definitely one, did involve a bit of music, although it was not the main actor in all this, rather one of the many participants. It took me a while to figure out what was the point of all this, and I am still unsure but it may be a good start to say that the artists and scientists’ intensions were the ineluctable need of multi-collaboration, the connection between people, and the inevitable requirement for our brains to synchronize…

UCLA Professor in department of Design Media Arts, and Director of Art|Sci center, Victoria Vesna, presented the evening, explaining she has been collaborating with Mark Cohen (UCLA neurology-behavioral science professor) and James Gimzewski (UCLA chemistry and biochemistry professor and nanoscientist) as well as with a myriad of other scientists, musicians and artists on a very curious project – but I am the one adding the curious part. She has been doing these multi-people projects for a while – and this one even included an art historian, neuroscientist/DJ Don Vaughn, energy-oriented and visual artist Mick Lorusso, sound artists Gil Kuno, Shoshi Kanokohata (traditional Japanese flute player) and Maciej Ozog. Can you go more eclectic?

She is a intriguing character as she has been interested by connections between weather and human emotions, the ability for the human brain to control the environment, and how EEG (electroencephalography) reflects our mood or thoughts.

Without explaining much more, Victoria and one of the researchers sat around a table, putting on strange octopus-shape hat with long tentacles filled with LED lights. Inside the hat, electrodes were recording their EEG, and the results, all the brain waves, the alpha, beta, theta, delta, gamma waves were showing up on a large screen, as well as the level of attention and meditation — the two easiest brain states to identify, they explained later. The brain is so complex and EEG so fuzzy as a message, that it is the neuroscientist’s thorny problem to decipher from these oscillations what’s going on at any moment (and a LOT is going on anyway), but the performance had nothing to do with a 101 course in neuroscience. ‘I want to start with green’, said Victoria, and the LED of the medusa helmet lighted up, with colors ranging from red to pink to green to blue…. Followed an intense brainstorming, with some electronic wavy spatial music, mixed with Japanese flute, adding a sort of B-movie science-fiction movie vibe. The two people sitting at the table were interacting, speaking to each other, and the music was modulated by the musicians, according to the sound waves emitted by the conversation…

I am not sure it makes sense at this point, as it was quite a vision, the octopus helmets and the tentacles going through all sort of colors before generally synching on the same color. It was a sort of colorful visualization of these brainwaves-brainstates and a demonstration that brainwaves of two people connected by sight and sound would eventually synch with each other.

They invited the audience to participate and we saw the same process many times, whereas the colors and the music were very different each time! They insisted on the fact that the audience was also part of the process, contributing to the brain state of the people under the octopus helmets, as we are all connected… in a very Avatar-kind-of-way. The whole thing was rather bizarre and a bit spooky, exploring how sounds and colors affect the brain and bring it to synchronization, walking on this fine line between hi-tech gadget for new wave science and DIY technology for the quest of the deep mysteries of our unconsciousness… Before leaving, I asked one of the researchers if they had any article about this, and he said no, that this was the only way they presented the data… data? So is this science or art or both? I am still confused!

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